Everything you need to know about 'Slave Play'

Jeremy O Harris's explosive, multi-Tony-nominated play about love, race, and trauma is coming to the Noël Coward Theatre in the West End this summer.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

It seems like everyone already has an opinion about Jeremy O Harris’s Slave Play. That’s partly because it has sparked a spirited discussion around the programming of Black Out nights (performances aimed at Black-identifying audiences), and partly because of the subject matter of this incendiary show, which is designed to provoke a passionate response.

We definitely saw that when Slave Play premiered Off Broadway in 2018 and then on Broadway in 2019. It scored a record-breaking 12 Tony nominations, while both critics and audiences dove into a fascinating conversation about race, sexuality, power, ancestral trauma, and much more.

Now this bold, funny, deliberately outrageous play comes to the West End, with a fantastic cast featuring Game of Thrones star Kit Harington. The production runs at the Noël Coward Theatre this summer – so you’ve got the chance to see it and make up your own mind. Learn all about the show with our guide ahead of your trip.

Book Slave Play tickets on London Theatre.

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What is Slave Play about?

Slave Play follows three interracial couples as they try to work on their relationships via a highly unusual method: a type of therapy which involves them doing role-play on an (imaginary) antebellum cotton plantation in Virginia. That means acting as, for example, a white overseer who is attracted to a Black slave.

The first act sees the couples – Kaneisha and Jim, Phillip and Alana, and Dustin and Gary – play out these fantasies. In the second and third acts, they process what just happened with Patricia and Teá, academics who are running a study, and we come to understand how it illuminates their existing problems.

Harris partly challenges audiences with those antebellum scenes (which shade into various sexual kinks), while also investigating contemporary relationships – and drawing a line from the traumatising power dynamics of the past through to modern issues. It’s witty, profound, and boldly provocative, so make sure you leave plenty of time afterwards to discuss it at the bar!

Where is Slave Play playing?

Slave Play is playing at the Noël Coward Theatre in London’s West End. The theatre is situated in central London, close to Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square. This mid-sized historic theatre has a capacity of 872.

When can I see Slave Play?

Slave Play is running at the Noël Coward Theatre from 29 June to 21 September 2024.

How long is Slave Play?

The running time of Slave Play is 2 hours with no interval.

What days is Slave Play playing?

Slave Play plays six days a week at the Noël Coward Theatre, with matinee performances on Wednesday and Saturday, and evening performances Monday through Saturday. For the complete performance schedule and show times, visit the Slave Play page on London Theatre.

Major productions of Slave Play

Slave Play debuted Off Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop in November 2018. Robert O’Hara directed this sold-out premiere run of the show, which had incredible buzz right from the start.

Slave Play moved to Broadway the following year, playing at the John Golden Theatre from October 2019 to January 2020. It returned to Broadway for an encore run in November 2021, this time at the August Wilson Theatre, and then transferred to Los Angeles’s Mark Taper Forum in February 2022.

This West End production marks the European premiere of Harris’s play, so it’s an exciting moment in the show’s journey.

Photo credit: Slave Play (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

What awards has Slave Play won?

The original Off-Broadway production of Slave Play was nominated for numerous Lucille Lortel, Drama Desk Awards, and Outer Critics Circle Awards. Claire Ward won a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Fight Choreography. Harris was the winner of the 2018 Paula Vogel Playwriting Award.

The Broadway production of Slave Play then broke the record set by Angels in America for the most Tony Award nominations for a non-musical play, with 12 in total. Joaquina Kalukango won an Outer Critics Circle Award for her performance in the show.

Who stars in the London production?

The West End production of Slave Play features Kit Harington, known for playing Jon Snow in Game of Thrones, and for stage roles such as Faustus and Henry V. He’s joined by Heartstopper’s Fisayo Akinade, whose many theatre projects include The Crucible at the National Theatre, as well as Olivia Washington (The Tragedy of Macbeth) and Aaron Heffernan (War of the Worlds).

The production also sees the return of several of the show’s Broadway stars: Chalia La Tour, Annie McNamara, Irene Sofia Lucio, and James Cusati-Moyer. That should make for a really compelling combination of new actors tackling the material alongside the brilliant talent who helped shape it across the pond.

Slave Play BW - LT - 1200

Slave Play characters

Kaneisha: A Black woman, with a Southern background, who is in a relationship with Jim (a white man). Kaneisha suffers from anhedonia: she struggles to achieve sexual pleasure when they’re together.

Jim: A white man, in a relationship with Kaneisha, who is British and wealthy. In the first act, they role-play with Kaneisha as a slave and Jim as an overseer, but he finds it difficult to maintain that power dynamic.

Phillip: A mixed-race man who is in a relationship with Alana (a white woman). Like Kaneisha, he is having problems finding pleasure with his white partner, and he also struggles with his mixed-race identity.

Alana: A white woman who is in a relationship with Phillip. In the first act, they role-play as mistress and servant.

Dustin: A white gay man who is in a relationship with Gary. He is uncomfortable about being defined by his “whiteness”, but he wants them to move to a more gentrified neighbourhood.

Gary: A Black gay man who is in a relationship with Dustin. He also has anhedonia, and feels that Dustin is erasing his Black identity because he doesn’t want to acknowledge race.

Teá: A mixed-race woman who is in a relationship with Patricia. She’s an academic specialising in Black feminism and queer theory, and together they’re running a study in Racialised Inhibiting Disorder.

Patricia: A light-skinned Latina woman who is in a relationship with Teá. She’s also an academic, studying cognitive psychology, and the co-founder of this controversial study.

Who is in the Slave Play creative team?

Slave Play is the professional debut of the acclaimed American playwright Jeremy O Harris. His play Daddy: A Melodrama was staged at London’s Almeida Theatre in 2022 to great acclaim. He also co-wrote the movie Zola, co-produced TV show Euphoria, and acted in Gossip Girl and Emily in Paris.

The production is directed by the Tony-nominated Robert O’Hara, with set design by Clint Ramos (Tony winner for Eclipsed), and costumes by Dede Ayite (two Tony nominations).

Fun facts about Slave Play

• Jeremy O Harris actually wrote Slave Play during his first year at Yale School of Drama. Director Robert O’Hara was one of his teachers at Yale.
• Harris pioneered the concept of a ‘Black Out’ performance, holding the first one on 18 September 2019 for Black-identifying artists, writers, and students. Famous artists of colour came in support, such as actor Jesse Williams.
Slave Play attracted big names on other nights too. Its celebrity fans included Whoopi Goldberg, Rihanna, Scarlett Johansson and Madonna. Will we see the same in the UK?
• Rihanna is also something of a muse for Harris. Her song “Work” features at a pivotal moment, and the lyrics feature in the set design.

How do I book tickets for Slave Play?

This is bound to be the most talked-about play of the year, so make sure you don’t miss out on seeing – and discussing – it! Slave Play is at the Noël Coward Theatre from 29 June to 21 September 2024.

Book Slave Play tickets on London Theatre.

Book Tickets CTA - LT/NYTG

Main image photo credit: Slave Play artwork. Inset: Slave Play on Broadway. (Photos by Matthew Murphy)

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