Black, White or even Green – there is a place for all in Theatre

wicked-london_suzie-mathers-glinda-and-rachel-tucker-elphaba_photo-by-matt-crocket_9548Women playing the roles of men?
Black actors playing principal characters?
Children being portrayed as having gay parents?

Remember when Maxine Peake played Hamlet or the Donmar’s all-female Henry IV? What about last year when David Suchet played Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest? Not to mention the wonderful Sasha Regan productions of an all-male HMS Pinafore and Pirates of Penzance.

There has been a lot in the news over the last week about gender swapping in theatre and Andrew Lloyd Webber has said that the future of theatre relies on more black actors being cast in principal roles to stop theatre audiences from being predominantly white. But hang on a minute…. haven’t we already made a pretty good start on this?

Hermione Granger was white in the Harry Potter films but is now being played by a black actress in the stage adaption of J.K. Rowling’s latest work, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. One of the biggest names in the West End right now is Matt Henry who is winning awards left, right and centre for his leading role in Kinky Boots. Equally, Tyrone Huntley recently won the 2016 Emerging Talent Award at the Evening Standard Awards and made quite a splash with his role in Jesus Christ Superstar. Boq, the little munchkin in the London production of Wicked is now being played by a black man for the first time in the London production’s history. Alexia Khadime was the first black actress to ‘green up’ in Wicked to play the lead role of Elphaba. Oh and there is also a lady out there called Cynthia Erivo who some of you may have heard of, she isn’t doing too badly! So are black actors being turned down for roles simply because of the colour of their skin? Or are we bringing up racial issues that don’t actually exist?

The Lion King, The Book Of Mormon, Motown and Dreamgirls are just a few of the current West End shows playing with large percentages of black actors and so what is Andrew Lloyd Webber talking about?

As one critic rightly pointed out, Lloyd-Webber’s latest show School of Rock may feature a good mix of enthnic diversity and even a white gay male couple with a black daughter (although for some reason gay men are still being acted as stereotypically effeminate) but if there is such a need to put black actors in principal roles, why couldn’t Dewey Finn have been a black man? And why are we still putting the colour of peoples skin in the mix when it comes to casting choices? Shouldn’t it be about the best ‘person’ for the job, regardless of skin colour?

Recently, the award winning National Theatre director, Marianne Elliot announced she is to leave her job at the National next year to set up her own company Elliot Harper Productions with partner Chris Harper. Marianne has won Olivier and Tony awards for her work on the smash hit productions of War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-time.

Elliot Harper Productions have now announced the schedule for their first line up of shows and one production in particular has really got people talking. Stephen Sondheim’s hit musical Company which tells the story of a man Bobby who is unable to commit to one relationship whilst all of his friends are getting married, will be staged in 2017 starring Rosalie Craig in the role of Bobbie. Sondheim has given permission for the male character of Bobby to be changed to the female Bobbie. Telling the story from a modern day point of view where women are free to put down their knitting and embrace their human emotions and sexuality. Brilliant news and a brilliant show that I can’t wait to see.

Now news has surfaced that the brilliant play POSH by Laura Wade, which tells the story of a group of rich college boys in America, drinking wine at a dinner party and talking about how privilaged they are, is going to be staged in 2017 featuring an all-female cast! Flipping the story on its head but why not? Male or female, everyone has the same emotion in them and I cant wait to see the girls go at it against each other in this production.

Personally, I think we are living in a refreshing and exciting time right now where the boundaries of what is considered possible in theatre is really being stretched and put to the test. Rather than complaining about there not being enough (insert diversity group) people on the theatre stages, how about we embrace how far we have come and how exciting a time we are actually in right now!

By West End Wilma
Photo: Matt Crockett

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