UENTIN LETTS, in This Paper, Reviewing [...]

Daily Mail (London), April 10, 2018 | Go to article overview

UENTIN LETTS, in This Paper, Reviewing [...]


Byline: Gregory Doran RSC ARTISTIC DIRECTOR

QUENTIN LETTS, in this paper, reviewing the RSC production of The Fantastic Follies Of Mrs Rich by Restoration writer Mary Pix, takes particular issue with the casting of one of the roles.

He feels the character, in this long-neglected Restoration comedy, has been misconceived, and should be played differently.

I have no problem with that. It is Mr Letts's opinion. I happen to disagree with him.

However, Mr Letts then goes on to suggest that the reason the actor is wrong for the part is because he is black, and accuses the RSC (of which I am proud to be the Artistic Director) of inclusivity box-ticking, under pressure from the Arts Council, and that we are more concerned with 'social engineering' than the business of drama.

Rather like some old dinosaur, raising his head from the primordial swamp and blinking in disbelief that the world is no longer as he expected it to be, Mr Letts should consider who we now are.

And perhaps he should attend to Hamlet's advice to the players. The Danish prince reminds the actors that the purpose of playing, 'both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as 'twere the mirror up to nature: to show ... the very age and body of the time his form and pressure'.

In other words, theatre has always, and must now, reflect the society in which we are living.

If you are part of the rising number of the UK population who identify as people of colour (roughly 40 per cent in London) and you do not see yourself reflected on our stages (or in our media), then why should you engage? Why should you consider theatre - or in our case particularly, classical theatre - as relevant to your life? The RSC has always been at the forefront of challenging assumptions, of representing the entirety of our community, of championing equality, diversity and inclusion on our stages.

SIXTY years ago this year, Trinidadian Edric Connor became the first black actor to perform in Stratford-upon-Avon. He played a calypso-singing Gower in Tony Richardson's 1958 production of Pericles.

In 1992, my own directing career with the RSC began with The Odyssey. It was adapted from Homer by Caribbean poet Derek Walcott - the first black writer to be commissioned by the company. Coincidentally, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature during the run. The cast included a young Sophie Okonedo and Rudolph Walker.

A few years later, at The Other Place, I directed Biyi Bandele's adaptation of Aphra Behn's novella Oroonoko, set both in West Africa and the West Indies.

The cast, consisting of ten black actors, were 'cross-cast' through the entire season, meaning that for the first time the Stratford company was nearly 40 per cent black. Out of that company came a young actor called David Oyelowo.

In 2000, David was cast as Henry VI, the first black actor to play a king in one of Shakespeare's history plays. Despite his critically acclaimed performance, there were many who could not accept a black actor playing an English king, thus confusing history with drama. The outcry was deafening.

Surely times have changed. Not according to Mr Letts.

In 2012, we presented our first Shakespeare with an entirely black cast: Julius Caesar, set in contemporary Africa, with Paterson Joseph, Cyril Nri and Ray Fearon, as Brutus, Cassius and Antony. …

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