Nazi and Jewish version of Romeo & Juliet being produced by UK theatre

Set in 1930s Germany, the Icarus version of Romeo & Juliet will reimagine Romeo as a Hitler Youth member and Juliet as a Jewish girl.

 Visitors seen standing next to a display of swastika banners at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem on April 26, 2022, ahead of Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Day.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Visitors seen standing next to a display of swastika banners at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem on April 26, 2022, ahead of Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Day.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

A version of William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet in which the main characters and the factions dividing the lovers are Nazis and Jews is being produced by the United Kingdom-based theatre group Icarus Theatre Collective.

Set in 1930s Germany, the Icarus version of Romeo & Juliet will reimagine Romeo as a member of the Hitler Youth and Juliet as a "young, naive, innocent" Jewish girl.

Promotional images for the play show a Nazi Reichsadler eagle rising from the "M" in Romeo and a star of David dotting the "I" in Juliet.

In Shakespeare's original play, set in Verona, Italy, told the tale of young lovers attempting to pursue their burgeoning romance despite the intense rivalry between their respective noble houses, Montague and Capulet.

"In defiance of their entire society and in secrecy from their closest friends, hopeful young lives burn amidst a cataclysmic backdrop of impending war. Sun and moon shine down on star-crossed lovers as a Jewish girl falls for a member of Nazi Youth and the boy questions everything he was taught to believe," Icarus explained in their job postings. "They hide their passion and sexuality from their warring families and their closest friends. Misadventure, family pride, and antisemitism abort and bury the most joyous of beginnings, the most hopeful of love stories as Romeo and Juliet, driven apart, find their world becoming a constricting, single mausoleum of fate and death."

A Nazi armband with a swastika displayed in the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, Germany (credit: Wikimedia Commons)A Nazi armband with a swastika displayed in the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, Germany (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Other characters, such as Tybalt, Juliet's Nurse and Lady Capulet will also be portrayed as Jewish. Friars Lawrence and John will be reordained as rabbis. 

Despite taking place in 1930s Germany, in which the Nazi party emphasized Aryan ethnic supremacy, the theatre said "For many roles we are cross-casting and specifically looking for non-binary artists, and/or those of Global Majority, black or Asian heritage, as part of our ongoing efforts to ensure our on-stage team is representative of the wider UK population."

After criticism about the casting of Jewish characters, the theatre assured that it had a preference for those with Jewish backgrounds for the role of Juliet and other converted characters.

"Part of our R&D process has always been to include members of the Jewish community in presentations, as we recognize that the director's background is not sufficient to ensure proper presentation of this dangerous concept," said Icarus. 

"Sun and moon shine down on star-crossed lovers as a Jewish girl falls for a member of Nazi Youth and the boy questions everything he was taught to believe."

Icarus Theatre Collective

Nazi and Jewish Romeo and Juliet poorly received 

When Icarus shared the casting call on Twitter on Friday it was poorly received.

"Are you guys trying to do The Producers for real here?" said one Twitter user, referencing the 1967 satirical movie in which a pair of Broadway producers attempted to scam investors with a musical flop celebrating Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. 

"Please rethink this crass and appalling idea," Tweeted Guy Woolf, noting the opening line in the play, which sets the theme of mutual responsibility for conflict and vengeance. "'Two households, both alike in dignity?'" 

"These are not two households both alike in dignity," Icarus said in response to the intense criticism. "Please understand our intention in Romeo & Juliet is to portray the Montagues as the bad guys and the kids brainwashed as per Jojo Rabbit.  Particularly as a criticism of the current political situation. In particular, we have cut the opening speech."

After the intense backlash, the original casting call was deleted from Twitter.