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The ‘yellowface’ row proved British theatre is stuck in the past - but could a new play bring it forward?

Lourdes Faberes as Tamburlaine 
Lourdes Faberes as Tamburlaine  Credit: Yellow Earth

When a London theatre used a cast of all-white actors for a play set in ancient China, it sparked a major backlash. Film and TV stars turned out in force this January to protest the “yellowface” show at the Print Room in Notting Hill.

But now a theatre company who helped to lead that protest are staging their own production – and it couldn’t be more different.

“I think it’s time for British East Asian actors – and in particular women – to take their place in the classics,” says Kumiko Mendl. Mendl is the artistic director of Yellow Earth, the company behind a radical, minimalist new take on Christopher Marlowe’s 16th century epic Tamburlaine, the story of a bloodthirsty Asian emperor.

The play is staged in a Peter Brook-esque empty space, and has a British Asian cast led by 42-year-old actress Lourdes Faberes as the titular warlord. 

“People say we should stop plundering the classics for...

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