(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the Guardian, 5/6; via Pam Green; Photo: Adjoa Andoh as Shakepeare’s Richard III. Photograph: Manuel Harlan.)
An inspiring analysis of Shakespeare and race restores his reputation as a playwright for all
There is a vivid moment in Farah Karim-Cooper’s new book where she reflects on the image of the nation’s pre-eminent playwright – how unfathomable he has seemed to artists and how his face has been conjured from a historical blur. She compares portraits and discerns a marked shift in the 18th century when he seems to become “more beautiful, symmetrical, and whiterin complexion”.
If visual art has hitherto seemed like a peripheral detail in the appraisal of his work, Karim-Cooper, a professor of Shakespeare studies, connects this paled image to a metaphorical whitewashing: the man we celebrate today is not the one who lived and worked in Elizabethan England but a reconstructed fantasy, built to serve as an emblem of white excellence and imperial Englishness.
Efforts to decolonise Shakespeare have been fiercely contested in the past and as co-director of education at the Globe theatre, Karim-Cooper navigated her own storm when she organised a series of webinars on anti-racism in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. Far from being cowed by the experience, she has produced a book-length study of the bard through the lens of race theory.
It is a thorough analysis but also a kind of love letter. Karim-Cooper felt an instant connection to Shakespeare at the age of 15, during an English lesson on Romeo and Juliet. But in order to love him, she argues, we have to know him fully, and not only his genius but the darker aspects of his legacy.
Karim-Cooper’s broader sociopolitical scope makes us see certain lines and characters afresh
It is a clever deployment of Shakespearean wisdom on how to love without a distorting “fancy bred in the eye”. The great white bard of the title is just that type of idealised cultural construct, she suggests. “I am a foreign, brown woman – and I feel seen and heard in Shakespeare’s plays,” Karim-Cooper asserts and this chimes with her book’s broader aim: to restore the swan of Avon as a playwright for all.
Close readings of the texts produce concrete examples of racial prejudice, antisemitism and colonial subjugation in works such as Othello, The Merchant of Venice, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra and The Tempest. Some of this is familiar, but Karim-Cooper’s broader sociopolitical scope makes us see certain lines and characters afresh. She also bypasses charges of unfairly applying 21st-century definitions of racism and white supremacy by calibrating her analysis to the values of the Tudor era, or subsequent centuries.
We are taken from original stagings in black- and brown-face to the trauma carried in roles such as Othello for contemporary Black actors.Karim-Cooper makes some rather creative connections between Shakespeare’s world and ours: a discussion on inter-racial couples such as Othello and Desdemona and Titus Andronicus’s Aaron and Tamora segues into an analysis of the present day ambivalence towards Prince Harry and Meghan Markle; she draws on the cultural theorist bell hooks’s idea of political resistance through self-love, hailing Aaron’s eloquent defence of his blackness (“Coal-black is better than another hue / in that it scorns to bear another hue”) as “the first ever black power speech”.
Historians including Miranda Kaufmann and David Olusoga have supplied ample examples of diversity in Tudor Britain, and Karim-Cooper sees Shakespeare as holding a mirror to this society, with his plays interrogating live issues around race, identity and the colonial enterprise. Her critique is at its most absorbing and original when she shows how complicated his approach was. “Shakespeare often challenges us to hold two contradictory views simultaneously – it was how his mind worked,” she writes, and demonstrates how figures such as Shylock and Aaron were both defined by stereotypes as well as undermining them. Her arguments, cumulatively, come to feel essential and should be absorbed by every theatre director, writer, critic, interested in finding new ways into the work.
(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/21; Will Young as Nicky Lancaster and Diana Hardcastle as Florence Lancaster in The Vortex at the Royal Exchange theatre, Manchester, in 2007. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian.)
Anniversaries offer a chance for reappraisal. Fifty years after the death of Noël Coward, it is worth asking whether, as a playwright, he still speaks to us today. You might have thought that his world had faded but the truth is that between 1924 and 1941 Coward wrote five comedies – Hay Fever, Private Lives, Design for Living, Present Laughter and Blithe Spirit – that are regularly revived. They may look like escapist diversions but their structural symmetry, verbal precision and opportunities for actors mean that they are bankers which have achieved the status of minor classics.
But, rather than dwell on the famous five, I think it is worth asking whether there is more to Coward than a mastery of quilted fun and whether we should range more widely through his 50 or so plays. Oliver Soden’s excellent new biography, Masquerade, reveals Coward to be a more complex individual than we had acknowledged: Soden even suggests that, in his combination of manic activity and deep melancholia, there was a hint of what we now know as bipolarity. Sheridan Morley, Coward’s first biographer, called his book A Talent to Amuse. But, while Coward liked to present himself to the world as a message-free entertainer, he was a finger-wagging preacher and occasionally scathing satirist. You could, in fact, write an alternative study of Coward called A Talent to Abuse.
I’ve recently reread four early Coward plays which reinforce my notion that he was far more than an amiable jester. His first major success, The Vortex, first performed in 1924, looks like a chamber-drama about an intense mother-son relationship. It is, in fact, shortly to be revived at Chichester with a real-life mother and son – Lia Williams and Joshua James – in the leading roles. But, while the final confrontation has obvious echoes of the closet scene in Hamlet, the play also feels like a condemnation of Jazz Age frenzy and hysteria.
Nicky Lancaster, the drug-addicted hero, says at one point “we swirl about in a vortex of beastliness” and we are reminded that the title refers to a whirlpool that swallows up and absorbs its victims. The Vortex gave Coward the success he craved and he followed it with the perennially popular Hay Fever. But in the same productive period he wrote the overlooked Easy Virtue: seemingly a piece of updated Pinero in which a shady lady with a past comes into conflict with her starchy in-laws.
Reading it today, what is striking is Coward’s fierce condemnation of social convention, sexual repression and upper-class philistinism. Reviewing the last major revival at Chichester in 1999, I said the play had curious affinities with John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger in that it shows a protagonist who finds no responsive chord in the surrounding world and that the most sympathetic character was a retired colonel who represented a vanished Edwardian decency.
Arguably the most curious of the early Cowards is Semi-Monde written in 1926 but never staged until 1977 when Philip Prowse did a sumptuous production for the Glasgow Citizens. This is Coward at his most self-consciously cynical as he shows the shallowness of a group of socialites as they parade through the lounge of the Ritz Hotel in Paris. With its cast of 28, the play is unwieldy but what hits one is Coward’s withering portrait of the inconstancy of his many gay, lesbian and bisexual characters. Coward’s own inclinations were never in doubt but you might conclude from this glittering kaleidoscope that he felt homosexuality was something that should be practised but not preached.
The fiercest of this early quartet is Post-Mortem written in 1930 and seen in a truncated TV version and a revival at London’s King’s Head. It is commonly described as an anti-war polemic. Since it is about a hero, killed 1917 who returns as a ghost to see how the wartime sacrifice has been squandered in peace, it is really an attack on Coward’s own times. What is extraordinary is the breadth of the assault: church, state, a mendacious press all come under Coward’s critical fire in a play about what, in a sketch from Beyond the Fringe, was called The Aftermyth of War. It is no surprise, after this, that the Observer critic, St John Greer Ervine, dubbed Coward a “Savonarola in evening dress”.
As Karen Malpede points out in her introduction to Acts of War, tragedy “arose as a complement to, perhaps also as an antidote to, war.” The greatest of the early playwrights wrote from experience—Aeschylus and Sophocles were generals in the Athenian army, and Euripides was a combat veteran. Electronic media reports war instantly, but the stage provides an unrivaled venue for facing the horror of armed conflict on a human scale.
This historically important anthology of plays by American and British writers bears witness to the realities of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for combatants and civilians alike and asks what it means to be a citizen in a democracy at war. From violence on the battlefield and in the cells of Guantanamo to the toll exacted on the homefront, the seven plays collected by Malpede, Messina, and Shuman explore in depth the costs of war. Sometimes with humor or erotic charge, always with compassion and surprising insight, these contemporary plays return to the theater a necessary social edge.Karen Malpede’s introduction sets the plays in the broader contexts of theater’s roots and recent history, while award-winning journalist and author Chris Hedges provides a foreword.
The plays included in this collection: Guantanamo: “Honor Bound to Defend Freedom” by Victoria Brittain and Gillian Slovo; American Tet by Lydia Stryk; The Vertical Hour by David Hare; Prophecy by Karen Malpede; 9 Circles by Bill Cain; No Such Cold Thing by Naomi Wallace; and A Canopy of Stars by Simon Stephens.
Get to know the real Cary Grant for his 119th birthday, in Nancy Nelson’s acclaimed biography (he was born January 18, 1904).
Recollections in His Own Words and by Those Who Knew Him Best
Nancy Nelson’s Evenings with Cary Grant, which uses the icon’s own words—and is enhanced with material from Grant’s personal papers—draws from the remembrances of Katharine Hepburn, Gregory Peck, James Stewart, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Burt Reynolds, Sophia Loren, Quincy Jones, Deborah Kerr, and George Burns (over one hundred and fifty voices in all). Together these friends, colleagues, and loved ones provide a sublime, truthful, and candid portrait—as close to a memoir as Grant ever got.
Foreword by Barbara and Jennifer Grant. Available now.
“Forget the other Grant books, this is it. Superb.”–Kirkus Reviews.
“It’s a lovely, funny book about Cary.”–Katharine Hepburn.
(Dominic Dromgoole’s article appeared in the Guardian 10/26; via Pam Green; Photo: A hallucinatory experience’ … Frances Barber with Amanda Abbington and Reece Shearsmith in The Unfriend. Photograph: Manuel Harlan.)
The author of a new book about the greatest openings in theatre history asks stars of stage to recall their most thrilling first nights – and the occasional disasters that befell them
History has no shortage of explosive first nights and openings. Moments in public art when the concerns of an epoch meet the truths of artists and catalyse a volcanic response. These are the nights when pins can be heard dropping, when time is stretched into unforeseen patterns, when success is grasped or failure faced. For artists they are electrifying. Here are some stories from the frontline.
‘Beckett stood there like a stone but I carried on’
Eileen Atkins, attending Beckett’s Play, 1964 There were three figures on the vast Old Vic stage, all encased in jars. They did the same script twice through. Mad about Beckett anyway, I was overwhelmed by the cleverness and what it did to my brain. It was extraordinary the difference in effect when done at first one pace, then an entirely different one. The whole meaning shifted. Later I was in a car when I saw the director George Devine walking along with a man. I leapt out and shouted: “George, George, I just saw your amazing play.” “Well, say hello to the author,” he said and there was Samuel Beckett. I threw my arms around him and he stood like a stone. I wasn’t going to let him make me feel abashed, so I carried on.
‘The silences that night were spellbinding’
Anne Reid, The York Realist, Royal Court, 2003 I had no idea this was such a good play. The first time I read it, I thought: “Oh no, not another northern mother. Boring.” I was 64 and I’d never worked in London before. Peter Gill directed it so beautifully. Everything was specific in its choreography: this is the height to hold a teapot, this is how to take off and hang a coat. Whatever the action, he said if you take your time and present it, the audience will find it interesting. And he was so definite about pace: play the first scene legato, the second pizzicato – he really knew the music of a scene. The silences in the theatre that night … spellbinding! Later, we went to the Royal Court bar and as Peter walked down the stairs everyone burst into applause.
Tom Stoppard’s Olivier Award-winning Best New Play Leopoldstadt—his 19th on Broadway–which opened October 2, at the Longacre Theatre, is epic, the English way, with huge scope and significance, about the need to win, and to always find a way to win: in relationships, in assimilation and even, as much as possible, against the ultimate horrors of the last century. There is too short a glance at Eastern European absurdism that informs previous plays by the author, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Deadand Dogg’s Hamlet, which may have been appropriate (some contend the form was a reaction to the existential effects of World War II), given his devastating theme: the destruction of a Viennese and Galician family, from their lives in the Austro-Hungarian Empire to Austrian independence; from the Anschluss to immigration to new lands in the West. Instead, in PatrickMarber’s first-rate production, a measured cinematic approach seems to have been a guide, as if Freddie Young’s technically sharp, crystal-clear camera could be brought in for perfect scenic composition (the settings are by Richard Hudson, with Costume design by Brigitte Reiffenstuel and lighting design by Neil Austin; project design, using period photography, is by Isaac Madge and sound design and original music are by Adam Cork), with allusions, in terms of writing, to Anna Karenina, Chekhov, Hedda Gabler, Woyzeck, and probably more classic work–Brecht should be mentioned, as well, for some might conjecture that events of this scale, in the theatre, may need to happen through one great Mother Courage figure, instead of a family. The characters in the play—and there are 38 of them, including young actors—a number of whom are interested in Freud and psychoanalysis, are not necessarily likable or sympathetic, and many are cunning, perhaps due to the fact that the momentum of the story does not allow enough time with each—they’re opportunists overwhelmed by barbarity.
For theatregoers, Tom Stoppard means erudite fun at the most sophisticated levels, but although expert at keeping his play moving–with language more windy and literary than imitative of real speech (and with excellent monologues)–there’s not much intrinsically funny here, in a dark documentary-like work about survival skills, literal survival skills, probably more appropriately examined in film. There may be a comic joke about a cigar cutter, which promises to let loose mayhem, a Freudian slip or provocation to be found, a suppressed or false memory, which the Viennese doctor might find amusing, but the serious subject also forces the viewer to examine contemporary societal splits and abysses, discussed , for example, by John Murray Cuddihy in his The Ordeal of Civility (1974), whose thesis is expressed by Chilton Williamson, Jr. as: “Jews and the modern West have been at odds with one another for [more than] the past 150 years, as a tribal and essentially premodern people confronted a civilization representing secularized Christianity . . . and . . . celebrants of the illusory “Judeo-Christian” civilization have deliberately disguised the schism . . . prevent(ing it from) . . . coalescing (157).” The divide continues, in the public eye, from blatant antisemitism, where synagogues need to be monitored on holy days, to the mindless, escapism of social media chattering, chronicled as recently as the present, as celebrities like Kanye West, Candace Owens, and Whoopi Goldberg express off-the-cuff opinion in cancel culture. Antisemitism is an endless polarizing, immobilizing subject, in a country that, by all accounts, has been very good to and for Jews, but has never asked or expected them, to explain themselves, with self-reflection, before American society in the way that African-Americans have been asked to do, for example, in the Million Man March (and that may be a source of contention). Yet, high profile cases, in the Jewish community, are not unknown and have profoundly upset the country, such as, in the recent past, those concerning Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, and Ghislaine Maxwell. A playwright could choose to self-identify as “British,” instead of “coming out” as Jewish, for reasons, personal and myriad, but the irony is not lost, that a largely realistic, historical drama, like Leopoldstadt, is an example of what the ‘60s and a playwright like Tom Stoppard, helped drive out of fashion, only to be refound again, now, in the present day, perhaps like his heritage.
Bluffing, as a theme, does come up in Leopoldstadt, from a card game, to counting numbers, to a family business, and the family’s definition of its religion. Because of Stoppard’s stature as a major artist, as well as a character in the play, who apparently knew little about his own family, theatregoers might question how much subterfuge is being used about his past and what he knew about himself. “Mathematics is the only place where one can make yourself clear,” intones one of the scholars in the play, but theatregoers may still be perplexed about how Stoppard thought of himself and when, before his admission, and to which version of the self he is referring to (of course, being Jewish in the entertainment field is nothing unusual or stigmatizing—similarly, no one raised an eyebrow when Carol Channing exposed the fact that she was of African-American lineage, in her autobiography). There is always a hide-and-seek game in fiction with real characters—are we watching fiction or autobiography? Also, to what extent is the fiction protective, and can one have it both ways, or many ways, when readers or audience members might be asking for less rationalized alternatives to reality and more clarity? Nevertheless, assuming that authors will write more conservatively as they age, there are real reasons to admire Leopoldstadt, none the least to “never forget”—and for the ensemble work of the actors, including David Krumholtz, Faye Castelow, and Jenna Augen, to only choose three. A work of this sheer expanse and literary quality is so hard to find anywhere, whether an author is young or old, Jewish, Buddhist, or a Christian Scientist: Where else today could another script be found, for example, where one would actually want to have had a traditionalist, like David Lean, render it on screen?
John Murray Cuddihy’s book The Ordeal of Civility: Freud, Levi-Strauss, and the Jewish Struggle with Modernity is discussed in The Conservative Bookshelf by Chilton Williamson, Jr. (Citadel Press, 2004).
Leopoldstadt, Tom Stoppard’s Olivier Award-winning Best New Play, is directed by two-time Tony Award nominee Patrick Marber and produced by Sonia Friedman Productions, Roy Furman, and Lorne Michaels.
Leopoldstadt’s full 38-member company, which includes several members of the original West End company and 24 actors making their Broadway debuts, will feature Jesse Aaronson*(The Play That Goes Wrong off-Broadway), Betsy Aidem (Prayer for the French Republic), Jenna Augen*(Leopoldstadt in the West End), Japhet Balaban* (The Thing About Harry on Freeform), Corey Brill (“The Walking Dead,” Gore Vidal’s The Best Man), Daniel Cantor* (Tuesdays with Morrie off-Broadway), Faye Castelow*(Leopoldstadt in the West End), Erica Dasher* (“Jane By Design”), Eden Epstein* (“Sweetbitter” on Starz, “See” on Apple TV+), Gina Ferrall (Big River, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), Arty Froushan*(Leopoldstadt in the West End), Charlotte Graham* (The Tempest at A.R.T.), Matt Harrington (Matilda The Musical), Jacqueline Jarrold (The Cherry Orchard), Sarah Killough (Travesties), David Krumholtz (“Numb3rs,” Oppenheimer), Caissie Levy (The Bedwetter; Caroline, or Change), Colleen Litchfield* (“The Crowded Room” on Apple TV+), Tedra Millan (Present Laughter, The Wolves), Aaron Neil*(Leopoldstadt in the West End), Theatre World Award winner Seth Numrich (Travesties, War Horse), Anthony Rosenthal (Falsettos), Chris Stevens*, Sara Topham (Travesties), three-time Tony Award nominee Brandon Uranowitz (Assassins, Falsettos, Burn This), Dylan S. Wallach (Betrayal), Reese Bogin*, Max Ryan Burach*, Calvin James Davis*, Michael Deaner*, Romy Fay* (“Best Foot Forward” on Apple TV+), Pearl Scarlett Gold*, Jaxon Cain Grundleger*, Wesley Holloway*, Ava Michele Hyl*, Joshua Satine*, Aaron Shuf*, and Drew Ryan Squire*.
* indicates an actor making their Broadway debut.
Leopoldstadt’s limited Broadway engagement begins previews Wednesday, September 14 ahead of a Sunday, October 2 opening night at the Longacre Theatre (220 West 48th Street).
Perhaps the most personal play of Stoppard’s unmatched career, Leopoldstadt opened in London’s West End to rave critical acclaim on January 25, 2020. A planned extension due to overwhelming demand was curtailed due to the COVID-19 lockdown seven weeks later. In late 2021, the play returned for a further 12-week engagement. Both runs completely sold out and Leopoldstadt received the Olivier Award for Best New Play in October 2020.
Leopoldstadtwill mark Tom Stoppard’s 19th play on Broadway since his groundbreaking Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead opened 55 years ago. Stoppard has won four Best Play Tony Awards, more than any other playwright in history.
Set in Vienna, Leopoldstadt takes its title from the Jewish quarter. This passionate drama of love and endurancebegins in the last days of 1899 and follows one extended family deep into the heart of the 20th Century. Full of his customary wit and beauty, Tom Stoppard’s late work spans fifty years of time over two hours. The Financial Times said, “This is a momentous new play. Tom Stoppard has reached back into his own family history to craft a work that is both epic and intimate; that is profoundly personal, but which concerns us all.” With a cast of 38 and direction by Patrick Marber, Leopoldstadt is a “magnificent masterpiece” (The Independent) that must not be missed.
Leopoldstadt’s creative team includes scenic design by Tony Award winner Richard Hudson (The Lion King, La Bête), costume design by Brigitte Reiffenstuel, lighting design by three-time Tony Award winner Neil Austin (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Company, Travesties), sound and original music by Tony Award winner Adam Cork (Red, Travesties), video design by Isaac Madge, movement by Emily Jane Boyle, andhair, wig & makeup design by Campbell Young & Associates. Casting is by Jim Carnahan and Maureen Kelleher, and UK casting is by Amy Ball CDG.
Co-producers of Leopoldstadt include Stephanie P. McClelland, Gavin Kalin, Delman Sloan, Brad Edgerton, Eilene Davidson, Patrick Gracey, Burnt Umber Productions, Cue to Cue Productions, No Guarantees, Robert Nederlander, Jr., Thomas S. Perakos, Sanford Robertson, Iris Smith, The Factor Gavin Partnership, Jamie deRoy / Catherine Adler, Dodge Hall Productions / Waverly Productions, Ricardo Hornos / Robert Tichio, Heni Koenigsberg / Wendy Federman, Brian Spector / Judith Seinfeld, and Richard Winkler / Alan Shorr.
Tickets are on sale online at Telecharge.com or by phone at 212-239-6200.
For 10+ Group Sales information contact Broadway Inbound at broadwayinbound.com or call 866-302-0995.
(Harry Haun’s article appeared in the Observer, 8/22; via Pam Green.)
‘The Great American Mousical’ — one of the 31 children’s books written by the mother and daughter team — takes it first steps toward a 2023 run in Los Angeles.
Sometime after Victor/Victoria opened on Broadway in 1995, a small, solitary mouse made its way up from the bowels of the Marriott Marquis Theater and into the theater’s wardrobe room. Julie Andrews, then inhabiting both title roles, got the word from her hairdresser, who told her traps were set.
The actress reacted to this news with a combination of horror and compassion that one could expect from somebody who owes her Mary Poppins Oscar to the guy who created Mickey Mouse: “Oh, could you please make sure they put down humane traps? If you catch the little mouse, don’t kill it. Take it out somewhere far away so it can have a life in the country.”
Andrews sheepishly confesses to this response: “The hairdresser looked at me as if I were mad, then said, ‘Julie, the theaters on Broadway are riddled with mice in the basement. There are probably hundreds—perhaps even thousands—of mice under here. This one probably just came up to look at all the stars.’ And that made us laugh. Then, I suddenly had a lightbulb about that notion and started thinking, ‘Oh, my God! A troupe of mice in the basement of a great theater! Wonder if they are putting on their own shows downstairs for their own audiences.’”
She took this idea to her usual collaborator—her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton, who is as theater-savvy as her mother. With husband Stephen Hamilton and producer Sybil Christopher, Hamilton founded the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, New York, 31 years ago and has been running it ever since—all this, while simultaneously writing 31 children’s books with Andrews.
“The more we talked about it, the more excited we became,” Hamilton admits. “What a way to bring the magic of theater down to a kind of manageable scale for young readers! Within this troupe of mice could be all the classic characters of any theater, whether human or mouse: the director, the difficult leading lady, the intern, the weary producer, the hysterical hairdresser.
Anti-prejudice, anti-racist middle grade Christian fiction: The Long Shadow by Phyllis Wheeler (ranked #1 new release Teen & Young Adult Christian Social Issue Fiction (6/8/21 ranked #1 new release Teen & Young Adult Christian Social Issue Fiction; #3 on Amazon, regarding Children’s books about Prejudice and Racism; #18 in Children’s Self-Esteem and Self-Respect books; #1 (6/4/2021)
Aunt Trudy never wanted kids. Now that she’s Richie’s guardian, she makes his life miserable. Richie just wants to escape, so he seeks refuge in the deep Missouri woods he loves so much.
Suddenly it’s not summer, but late fall. How did that happen? Did the trucker who just gave him a ride somehow whisk him back fifty years in time?
The woods aren’t for Richie the haven they used to be. After a freak storm, he finds himself at the mercy of Morris, a mysterious black man who also calls the woods home. Is Morris a savior? Or someone to fear?
“Fivestars! A young teen finds himself propelled through time . . . –Susan K. Marlow, author of Andi Carter books
“Searching for a new favorite book? Look no further than The Long Shadow by Phyllis Wheeler. This is a great book for fans of To Kill a Mockingbird but with a time-travel twist. Richie grabs your attention and doesn’t let go until the very end.”—Elsie G, age 13.
“Sometimes we need to escape our own time and place to walk a few miles in someone else’s shoes. Phyllis Wheeler’s The Long Shadow will open your eyes, rend your heart, and take you on an invaluable journey.” —Wayne Thomas Batson, bestselling author of The Door Within Trilogy.
“Heartwarming and heartbreaking, Richie’s story is a shining example of how taking a chance on unlikely friendships is the best way to break down the barriers we build.” —Jill Williamson, award-winning author of the Blood of Kings trilogy.
“A powerful message wrapped in a page-turner.” — Cherie Postill, author, speaker, and mentor for teens at the St. Louis Writers Guild.
“I’ve read this book and enjoyed the characters in the story. I like the friendship that blossomed in the story and how the story came full circle in the end. It was a good history lesson without being offensive to anyone.”—LaShaunda Hoffman, sensitivity reader and author.
“Part survival story, part exploration of racial justice in America, part journey of self-discovery, and wholly engaging and memorable. A well done and powerful story. It is certainly stuck in my head.”—Joe Corbett, school librarian, St. Louis.
(Michael Hogan’s article appeared in the Observer, 7/10; via Pam Green.)
The actor’s breakup with comedian Seann Walsh went viral after he cheated on her with his dance partner and she responded with a tweet. Now she’s written an unflinching, very funny memoir
Rebecca Humphries’s 32nd birthday was one to remember, but for all the wrong reasons. On 3 October 2018, the actor was waiting at home alone, wearing a red silk dress and keeping a celebratory dinner for two warm. Meanwhile her boyfriend, the comedian Seann Walsh, was at the pub, kissing Katya Jones, his married professional partner on Strictly Come Dancing. When paparazzi photographs of their embrace were splashed across tabloid front pages, a scandal erupted. Humphries’ relationship, and her whole world, publicly collapsed.
The next day, she tweeted a statement which began: “My name is Rebecca Humphries and I am not a victim.” It described how, during their five-year relationship, Walsh called her “mental” and “psycho” whenever she questioned inappropriate or hurtful behaviour. His multiple other infidelities would emerge later. In the meantime, her tweet went viral, gaining her 20,000 new followers overnight. Now it was Humphries’s turn to monopolise front pages. One gleeful headline read: “You’re cha-cha-chucked!” Another hailed her as “the real winner of Strictly”.
Humphries – currently appearing in Ten Percent (Amazon Prime), the UK version of the hit French TV series Call My Agent! – was deluged with invitations to appear on television and radio and to write newspaper columns about toxic relationships and emotional abuse. On behalf of the organisers of the Women’s March London, she spoke in the House of Commons about gaslighting and the media. “I became an accidental figurehead,” she says.
Now she has written an extraordinary memoir, Why Did You Stay?. Described as “dazzling” by Marian Keyes and “fierce”, “gamechanging” and “brilliant” by Emma Thompson, the book is neither a kiss’n’tell, nor a revenge tragedy. Alternating between episodes from her relationship with Walsh and the aftermath of the Strictly debacle, it becomes a chilling study of insidious control and male-female power games. Unflinching and often very funny, it’s also a diary of self-discovery, an account of finding one’s self-worth, a celebration of resilience and a hymn to the value of friendship.
Tell us about the book’s title, Why Did You Stay? It’s the question that those of us who’ve had difficult relationships get asked more than anything else. It’s victim-shaming, but it’s also the question that stays with us and has the potential to eat us up. So I’m reclaiming it.
You write that what happened was your worst nightmare come true. Really? I’d catastrophised that exact scenario. Two months earlier, a friend asked me: “What’s the worst that can happen?” I said: “He has an affair with his dance partner and it’s splashed all over the tabloids for my friends and family to see.” I blurted that straight out. At that point, the relationship was my everything. I was watering a dead plant for a long time. It was all I had left. But when it broke up, that’s when my life started.
How did it feel when your tweet went viral? Before I met Seann in 2013, I was somebody who people listened to. I was forthright and always had opinions. But those five years were a slow process of eroding my personality, feeling as if I had no voice and my opinion didn’t matter. When I decided to tweet a statement, I told my friends: “It doesn’t matter if anyone else believes it. This is for me. And maybe it’ll get like, 50 likes.” When the numbers started totting up, I felt as if I had a voice again. Maybe one that mattered.
Are you still getting supportive replies? It never stops. Mostly from people that it resonates with, which says something about how common this is. Thousands came forward who’d been through the same. They understood what I was trying to say, which was: I was a smart, sexy, confident, clever woman and I can’t believe this happened to me. Victims of this behaviour don’t all look like submissive mice. It’s insidious when you see abuse victims in pop culture, because they’re often portrayed like that.
Do you feel like you had to write this book? I did, I felt a strong sense of responsibility. When I tweeted, I felt a similar sense of responsibility for the many who’ve had these experiences but don’t have a platform. And when you voice your shame, it disappears. I want to encourage more people to do the same. So much of the book is about ending victimhood. Nora Ephron said in Heartburn that she didn’t want to be the victim of her story, she wanted to be the heroine. That’s exactly how I felt.
Can you watch Strictly now? I still watch it. Strictly’s great. None of this is Strictly’s fault.