Cayman Islands, Caribbeanand International News
Friday, Mar 24, 2023

‘I was right to speak out about slavery money that built Bristol Old Vic’

‘I was right to speak out about slavery money that built Bristol Old Vic’

Tom Morris explains why he had to antagonise some of its donors in his effort to drive change

Bristol Old Vic’s outgoing artistic director Tom Morris has defended his decision to publicly highlight the slave trade riches that financed the theatre’s construction and urged the city to face up to slavery’s legacy if it is to battle the scourge of racism today.

Morris, who is stepping down in the autumn after 12 years, said it had been vital – in order to engage with the city’s African-Caribbean community –to acknowledge the brutal

origins of the vast fortunes that paid for the theatre in the 18th century.

“Our theatre was built in 1766 when really the only source of income in the whole British economy was directly or indirectly related to the transatlantic slave trade – but it was undeniably so in Bristol,” he said. “That represents something important to [African-Caribbean] communities, and it is our duty to be honest about it. As soon as you start to be honest you are in a conversation, not a standoff.”

At least 15 of the 50 people who contributed £50 to found the celebrated Georgian theatre were merchants involved in the slave trade, with the others benefiting indirectly. In return, the founders were given specially minted silver tokens granting them seats to see all performances.

Morris, who is best known as the co-creator of the National Theatre’s hit show War Horse, revealed that he faced a backlash from some of the theatre’s donors who accused him of “dragging up history” unnecessarily. But he insisted it was the right course of action.

“The history of this theatre and this city can’t be buried, if we want to make social change now, partly because its burial is a denial of the very real legacy of damage, which it leaves on our fellow citizens,” said Morris. “But partly because there are lessons about how to make social change happen now.”

There are many in the city, he added, still seeking to diminish the horrors of a trade in human beings by suggesting the moral standards of today cannot be applied to a bygone era. “But accounts of the time show that almost everyone [in Bristol] thinks the trade is execrable – meaning extremely morally repugnant. The idea they didn’t know it is wrong is complete fiction. But they couldn’t seize the opportunity to change it because the economic and social cost was – they thought – too high.”

Protesters throwing a statue of the slave owner Edward Colston into Bristol harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest rally.

Morris also played a key role in encouraging the Bristol Post to offer an apology for a notorious front-page splash in 1996, which featured the mugshots of 16 black men, convicted of drugs offences, under the headline “Faces of Evil”. Morris brokered a meeting between the newspaper’s editor and the race equality campaigner Roger Griffith, which led to the apology in 2018.

The theatre’s new season, which will be Morris’s last, includes The Meaning of Zong, a play by the Olivier award-winning Hamilton actor, Giles Terera, about Olaudah Equiano, a former slave, who helped galvanise the abolition movement in Britain.

The 12 years of Morris’s tenure have been eventful. He has steered the theatre through austerity arts cuts and the pandemic, which is still affecting the arts sector.

The most perilous days, however, came during the early stages of the pandemic, before the government stepped in with a £1.57bn culture recovery fund in July 2020. “We got to the point of if something doesn’t happen in six to eight weeks, we’re going to have to mothball and dismantle the business in a way that would take decades to recover,” he said. “That was our worst-case scenario.”

The Old Vic, which is the oldest working theatre in the English-speaking world, found itself exposed because it had come to rely on ticket sales during the austerity era. The theatre was forced to make a third of its workforce redundant. “We’d gone from a situation where 40% of our turnover was commercially earned to the situation, after 10 years of austerity, where 75% of our income was trading income, essentially ticket sales and bar sales,” he said. “When we were suddenly forced to close, we lost 75% of our income. The job retention scheme stopped us from going bust. If the culture recovery fund had been quicker, we wouldn’t have made so many people redundant.”

Morris, who is credited with reviving the ailing theatre, is leaving in the autumn because he feels it needs fresh leadership and he wants to pursue other interests, including potentially making films and putting on a classical music prom.

Nevertheless, he is excited by his last season, which is seeking to provide an opportunity for people to think about the major themes emerging from the pandemic, including public health and racial justice. “Our main job is to entertain people, otherwise they won’t return – but at the same time it’s part of our civic role to hold the space for the big topics of our times.”


Related Articles

Powell: Silicon Valley Bank was an 'outlier'
Donald Trump arrested – Twitter goes wild with doctored pictures
NYPD is setting up barricades outside Manhattan Criminal Court ahead of Trump arrest.
Credit Suisse's Scandalous History Resulted in an Obvious Collapse - It's time for regulators who fail to do their job to be held accountable and serve as an example by being behind bars.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman tours potential migrant housing in Rwanda as asylum deal remains mired in legal challenges
Paris Rioting vs Macron anti democratic law
'Sexual Fantasy' Assignment At US School Outrages Parents
Credit Suisse to borrow $54 billion from Swiss central bank
Russian Hackers Preparing New Cyber Assault Against Ukraine
Jeremy Hunt insists his Budget will get young parents and over-50s back into work
If this was in Tehran, Moscow or Hong Kong
TRUMP: "Standing before you today, I am the only candidate who can make this promise: I will prevent World War III."
Mexican President Claims Mexico is Safer than the U.S.
A brief banking situation report
Lady bites police officer and gets instantly reaction
We are witnessing widespread bank fails and the president just gave a 5 min speech then walked off camera.
Donald Trump's asked by Tucker Carlson question on if the U.S. should support regime change in Russia?.
Silicon Valley Bank exec was Lehman Brothers CFO
In a potential last-ditch effort, HSBC is considering a rescue deal to save Silicon Valley Bank UK from insolvency
BBC Director General, Tim Davie, has apologized, but not resigned, yet, following the disruption of sports programmes over the weekend
Elon Musk Is Planning To Build A Town In Texas For His Employees
The Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse effect is spreading around the world, affecting startup companies across the globe
City officials in Berlin announced on Thursday that all swimmers at public pools will soon be allowed to swim topless
Fitness scam
Market Chaos as USDC Loses Peg to USD after $3.3 Billion Reserves Held by Silicon Valley Bank Closed.
Senator Tom Cotton: If the Mexican Government Won’t Stop Cartels from Killing Americans, Then U.S. Government Should
Banking regulators close SVB, the largest bank failure since the financial crisis
The unelected UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, an immigrant himself, defends new controversial crackdown on illegal migration
Man’s penis amputated by mistake after he’s wrongly diagnosed with a tumour
In a major snub to Downing Street's Silicon Valley dreams, UK chip giant Arm has dealt a serious blow to the government's economic strategy by opting for a US listing
It's the question on everyone's lips: could a four-day workweek be the future of employment?
Is Gold the Ultimate Safe Haven Asset in Times of Uncertainty?
Spain officials quit over trains that were too wide for tunnels...
Don Lemon, a CNN anchor, has provided a list of five areas that he believes the black community needs to address.
Hello. Here is our news digest from London.
Corruption and Influence Buying Uncovered in International Mainstream Media: Investigation Reveals Growing Disinformation Mercenaries
Givenchy Store in New York Robbed of $50,000 in Merchandise
European MP Clare Daly condemns US attack on Nord Stream
Former U.S. President Carter will spend his remaining time at home and receive hospice care instead of medication
Tucker Carlson called Trump a 'demonic force'
US Joins 15 NATO Nations in Largest Space Data Collection Initiative in History
White House: No ETs over the United States
U.S. Jet Shoots Down Flying Object Over Canada
Being a Tiktoker might be expensive…
SpaceX, the private space exploration company, made a significant breakthrough in their mission to reach space.
China's top tech firms, including Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu, NetEase, and JD.com, are developing their own versions of Open AI's AI-powered chatbot, ChatGPT
This shocking picture, showing how terrible is the results of the earthquake in Turkey
President Joe Biden delivered the 2023 State of the Union Address , in order to help Americans that missed the 2022 speech, do not have internet, and suffer from short memory.
The desk of King Carlos Alberto of Sardinia has many secret compartments
Today's news from Britain - 9th February 2023