Arts Union Blasts Shakespeare Production for Having White Actors and No Disabled Quota

The RSC Prepares For All Eight History Play Performances
Cate Gillon/Getty Images

A celebrated director has been savaged by the leftist arts establishment for staging a Shakespeare play about England’s medieval history with a historically correct all white cast.

Remarkably, highly regarded director Sir Trevor Nunn has been accused of “whitewashing” British history for his deliberate casting decision for a production of The Wars of the Roses, reports The Independent. Combining the Henry VI trilogy and Richard III, the omnibus of Shakespeare’s most famed history plays presents a crucial period in English history – at a time where the population was essentially entirely white.

The United Kingdom’s largest actors union Equity weighed in to criticise the play, which will be showing at the Rose theatre in Kingston with a cast of 22, with the president of the union opining: “Whilst wishing every individual actor in the production well, can it be acceptable best practice in 2015 to cast a project such as this with 22 actors but not one actor of colour or who apparently identifies themselves as having a disability?”.

Sir Trevor insisted the casting was based on a deliberate decision – and one very rarely taken in contemporary theatre – to select players according to “historical verisimilitude”. In other words, he wanted to give the appearance of realism that an average theatregoer would accept as being recognisably medieval England. He added that the feudal nature of the plays, which revolves around two great English families vying for control of the country would become more difficult to understand for the audience if the characters weren’t obviously related to one another.

Rejecting the casting logic, the Equity statement read: “To present this benchmark of British heritage in a way that effectively locks minorities out of the cultural picture [literally] flies in the face of the huge conversation taking place in British media at present, of the very real progress made in recent years to increase diversity in our industry.”

It is likely a small number of travellers from the farthest corners of the world journeyed to England even in the 15th century owing to the nation’s blossoming mercantile trade. Yet the fact remains the number involved was so vanishingly small as to be a fraction of a single percent – and certainly no characters in these Shakespeare plays were non-European.

Far from whitewashing history, the accusations of miscasting in this case might be said in turn to be attempting to re-write history to suit a modern agenda.

One of the most concerning attacks on the play came from the director of Arts Council England. A recipient of huge amounts of tax payer money, the criticism of the play laid bare the political agenda of the quango as executive director Simon Mellor admitted only ethnically diverse projects would receive government funding through the council. He said:

“This production seems out of step with most of British theatre where casting that ignores an actor’s race is increasingly the norm. Whilst we do not fund the Rose Theatre, we expect organisations we fund to actively ensure their programme, and the artists that create it, reflect the people of contemporary England.”

The admission by Mellor explains how ethnically diverse casting has become such a norm in the United Kingdom and so quickly – as most artistic ventures remain completely unprofitable the receipt of grants remains essential for most theatre and arts companies.

Dispersing £830 million of tax payers’ money a year, the Arts Council is near ubiquitous and is able to exert enormous creative control through its selection of who is and who is not worthy of funding.

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