Miss Saigon has been called racist and misogynistic. So why is the Crucible putting it on?
Plus, son-et-lumière at Sheffield Cathedral
Good morning readers — and welcome to our Monday briefing.
The Crucible Theatre is one of the jewels in Sheffield’s crown. As we found out last year, its creation certainly wasn’t easy, but since then it has gone on to become a much-loved part of the city’s cultural fabric. No lesser figure than Sir Ian McKellen recently said it was “Britain’s finest theatre”. So when the Crucible was accused of putting on a “racist and sexist” production, Miss Saigon, it took people a bit by surprise. Today, we look at some of the reasons the musical is considered problematic and why the Crucible have taken it on.
As well as that, we have a fabulous new art exhibition at the Millennium Gallery, a sound and light installation at Sheffield Cathedral, and a beautiful apartment overlooking Endcliffe Park.
Catch up and coming up
For our weekend read, we spoke to some of the people who are preparing to live in a pioneering new cohousing community in Wisewood. You can still read that piece here.
Last week we sent out two great newsletters to our 950 paying members. The first was a piece by our regular contributor David Bocking about the awe-inspiring avian migrations that can be seen in the skies above Sheffield at this time of year. And the second was a piece by Harry Shukman and me about Alison Teal’s suspension from the Green Party. An extract from that first piece is below.
“Why is the Waitrose car park full of parrots?” was the shout out on social media back then. Waxwings do look a bit like parrots, but they were only here because the Swedish berry supply had disappeared (or was covered in snow). So roads with rowan trees in Ecclesall and Crosspool were staked out by birders with cameras, while shoppers saw flocks of strange orange birds stripping berries from ornamental bushes in supermarket car parks.
This week we’ll publish a World Cup-themed piece about the Sheffield migrants supporting their home countries at Qatar 2022 on Wednesday, and then a weekend read on Saturday. To help fund a new way of doing journalism in Sheffield focused on serving readers rather than advertisers, please consider subscribing using the button below. It costs just £1.34 a week if you pay for a year.
Editor’s note: As you may have read in our email yesterday, I’m taking this week off so The Tribune will be running a reduced publication schedule until next Monday. We hope that soon readers won’t know the difference when I’m off. But we’re not quite at that stage yet. In order to help us move onto the next stage of our journey join us as a Tribune member today.
The big picture: China protests spread 🪧
A subtly powerful protest took place at Barker’s Pool on Sunday where candles spelling out the slogan 11.24 URUMQI appeared just as night fell in Sheffield. Demonstrations against the Chinese government’s strict Covid rules have been taking place all over the country since 10 people died in a tower block fire in the city of Urumqi on 24 November. A message posted with the above photo online read: “Sheffield Chinese support people who refuse to be slaves anymore.”
This week’s weather 🌫️
Our weather forecast comes from dedicated Sheffield weather service Steel City Skies, who say a pattern change means high pressure will build to the northeast, blocking the advancement of low pressure to the west.
Monday ⛅ Similar to Sunday with hazy sunshine and large areas of high cloud. Fairly mild with light winds and highs of 9°C.
Tuesday 🌫️ Winds from the southeast usher large amounts of low cloud off the warm North Sea. Mist and fog patches too with highs of just 6°C.
Wednesday 🌫️ Spot the difference! Further swathes of mist and murk with persistent grey skies and highs of 6°C.
Thursday 🌫️ Little change in the output with the anticyclonic gloom continuing. Isolated light showers or drizzle with highs of 6°C.
Friday 🌫️ Again there's little to split the days with overcast skies and the risk of persistent mist and fog. Staying chilly at just 6°C.
Outlook: Remaining cool with large cloud amounts. Low confidence in some brightness, or equally the odd shower.
The big story: Miss Saigon has been called racist and misogynistic. So why is the Crucible putting it on?
Top line: A theatre company has pulled one of its shows from the Crucible after it emerged that the theatre was to stage the controversial musical Miss Saigon in 2023.
Damaging tropes: Last week, New Earth Theatre, a touring company which presents work from a British East and South East Asian perspective, withdrew their forthcoming UK tour of Worth from the Crucible due to their concerns over the programming of Miss Saigon, saying the musical “perpetuates deeply held notions of Asian inferiority”. They said:
Miss Saigon remains a very contentious musical since its release over thirty years ago, having hurt and angered many viewers due to its highly problematic narrative and portrayal of the Vietnam War and Vietnamese people. The damaging tropes, misogyny and racism inherent in the show completely contradict New Earth and Storyhouse’s values and beliefs.
F*ck M*ss S**gon: Ever since it debuted in the West End in 1989, Miss Saigon has courted controversy. The musical is based on the 1904 Puccini opera Madama Butterfly — which itself has been criticised for its portrayal of East Asian women — and centres on the relationship between an American soldier and a Vietnamese sex worker during the Vietnam War.
In the initial London production, several actors played their roles in so-called “yellowface”, wearing eye prosethetics and makeup to make them look more Vietnamese. Some critics compared the casting choices to a “minstrel show”.
In an astonishing coincidence, American playwright Kimber Lee’s untitled f*ck m*ss s**gon play is set to be be staged at the same time at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, raising the stakes of the Crucible’s decision still further.
Important conversations: In a lengthy response on the Sheffield Theatres’ website, joint directors Robert Hastie and Anthony Lau said that while they respected those who felt the musical was inherently problematic, they felt strongly that it didn’t have to be. They said:
We understand that Miss Saigon has a divisive performance history and acknowledge the upset it has caused; we want to address this and believe there is a way to have these big and important conversations with a wider audience, that land in a way they might not have done in the past and to continue championing the voices of East and South East Asian artists in this country.
Bottom line: The Crucible has had a reputation for brave programming decisions ever since it opened in 1971. Just recently they staged the ambitious Rock/Paper/Scissors triptych of plays over three stages at the same time, as well as a production of Much Ado About Nothing which included a cast of deaf, disabled and neurodiverse actors. The theatre’s management clearly feel they can do something innovative with Miss Saigon which will reframe the story for audiences in a different way. We’ll have to wait until next summer to see if they pull it off.
Home of the week 🏡
This two-bedroom flat on Rustlings Road is split over two levels, has a rear south-facing private garden and beautiful views over Endcliffe Park. It is on the market for £300,000.
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Our media picks 🎧
Boy dies after being sent home from hospital 🏥 An unimaginably horrific story on the Sky News website about Yusuf Mahmud Nazir, the five-year-old Rotherham boy who died after being sent home from hospital. His family say they "begged and begged" for Yusuf to be admitted to Rotherham General Hospital but were told there were “no beds and not enough doctors”. He was eventually taken to Sheffield Children’s Hospital, but died on Monday.
Councillors oppose changes to Castlegate regeneration scheme 🏰 Sheffield City Council’s transport, regeneration and climate policy committee has delayed a plan to divert funding meant for the castle site to two nearby buildings after councillors and local groups objected. Committee members were asked to allow Levelling Up funding to be used to refurbish the Market Tavern and Mudfords Building on Exchange Street, but opted to defer the decision instead.
Manager of heat pump firm feels like starting a revolution 🔥 In this month’s New Statesman, Emma Bohan, the owner of a heat pump firm based in Dronfield, argues that to achieve Net Zero, a government-funded scheme to rollout green technologies will be required. “We are quite happy to bail out banks to the tune of £250bn or £500bn,” she says. “And yet we won’t give Mr and Mrs Smith the ten grand that they actually need to install a heat pump.”
Things to do 📆
Art 🖼️ On from now until March next year at the Millennium Gallery is From Sky to Sea: Artists and Water, an exhibition of painting, photography and works on paper which explores art’s enduring fascination with water and our relationship to it. The exhibition features works by Cézanne, Hockney, Ravilious, and Turner, and is also the first chance to see Titian’s woodcut The Submersion of Pharaoh’s Army in the Red Sea in Sheffield since the 1980s.
Installation ⛪ The spectacular Sheffield Cathedral light show returns on Tuesday, 29 November for its third year with The Manger, a display all about the Christmas story. The show, which was attended by 10,000 people last year, will feature a full “son-et-lumière” on the facade of the building and then a second show inside the cathedral. Tickets are priced £8 for adults and £6 for children aged 4-15 and the show will run until Sunday, 4 December.
Film 🍿 On Thursday, 1 December the Showroom cinema and the Yorkshire Film Archive celebrate the 35th anniversary of seminal Sheffield documentary On the Manor with a special screening of highlights from the four-part series. Filmed over six months in 1987 against a backdrop of industrial closures, high unemployment, and a looming general election, the film is about the strength and resilience of a community fighting to survive.
Hallamshire houses 🏡
The always interesting Sheffield Modernist Society Instagram page shared some photos recently of Hallamshire houses, a type of social housing that was used extensively in Sheffield in the 1960s. The houses were commissioned by city architect J. L. Womersley (who also built Park Hill and Gleadless Valley), and designed by the Derbyshire-based Vic Hallam Ltd, a company which started out in life building wooden outhouses for chickens.
The houses were constructed using a method the firm developed called the Derwent System, which allowed them to build houses in just two days (they also built schools, with Birley Infants reportedly being constructed in a record 108 days). There are still a few of them dotted around the city, most notably in Norfolk Park. If you have lived in one, please get in touch and let us know what they were like as we might do a story on them in future.