New production of Slave Play won't be "the Jon Snow Experience" with Kit Harington in cast

Slave Play author Jeremy O. Harris was advised to cast Harington by another Game of Thrones veteran: Gwendoline Christie.
Fendi Fall/Winter 2024/2025 -  Milan Fashion Week – Front Row
Fendi Fall/Winter 2024/2025 - Milan Fashion Week – Front Row / Pietro S. D'Aprano/GettyImages

If you live in a big theater town — say New York City or London, where theater has a long history of being big business — or enjoy visiting to take in plays, you know that casting big-name actors in productions is one way for promoters to lure people into the playhouse. It's a practice that playwright Jeremy O. Harris has problems with. “There’s a lot of people making theater now who think commercial theater can only be made if you have someone who’s on the biggest TV show or the biggest movie ever, with the marquee name as the reason for you to buy the ticket. I don’t believe in that,” he told The Guardian. “It’s something that takes away from great theater because people treat it like a Disney World attraction, where the play is background to the amusement of seeing their favorite celebrity in front of them.”

But it's a practice that Harris is having to grapple as his play Slave Play — which debuted stateside in 2018 and was nominated for a record 12 Tonys — comes to London. Game of Thrones star Kit Harington is part of the cast in a new production, but Harris says he never would have agreed to the casting if Harington wanted to “make it the Jon Snow Experience.”

Harington was recommended to Harris by another Game of Thrones alum: Gwendoline Christie, who played Brienne of Tarth. “Kit was saying ‘I don’t want this to be Kit Harington in ‘Slave Play,' this is an ensemble play and I’m not even the lead,’” Harris said. “He knows the weight his name carries and how that could become a distraction, if we allowed it to be.”

Jeremy O. Harris
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Indeed, Slave Play is an ensemble piece; this new production also stars Fisayo Akinade, Aaron Heffernan, Olivia Washington, James Cusati-Moyer, Chalia La Tour, Annie McNamara and Irene Sofia Lucio. The play is about three interracial couples who undergo “Antebellum Sexual Performance Therapy” — basically role-playing as slaves and masters in the pre-Civil War south — to reinvigorate their relationships. With content like that, it's no surprise that the play stirred up some controversy when it was running on Broadway, although it was also a hit.

The phenoemenom of casting big-name actors in plays is tricky. I get what Harris is saying about not wanting them to be a distraction, but also, they do attract people to the theater, which is good for the health of the theater business overall. For instance, I'd never heard of Slave Play before this story broke, and while I'm not going to travel to London to see it, if it plays near me, I may check it out. That might not have happened if Harington wasn't involved.

As for the London production of Slave Play with Harington, it will run at the Noël Coward theatre in the West End from June 29 through September 21.

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h/t Variety