Gender bent & colour blind casting

Tamsin Greig as Malvolia at the National

Recently Tamsin Greig played Malvolio- or “Malvolia” in Twelfth Night at the National Theatre. This led Dominic Cavendish to write a piece in The Telegraph stating that “gender equality on stage risks the death of the great male actor”. Oh my god, I totally agree. That sort of thing should be BANNED. And while we’re at it, we should also ban David Suchet playing Lady Bracknell, this all male production of Travels with my Aunt and every single pantomime dame.

David Suchet as Lady Bracknell
Travels with my Aunt at the Menier Chocolate Factory

As Julian Fellowes said about his all-white production of Half a Sixpence in the West End, “you can’t make something untruthful.” It’s set in 1900 and I’m *pretty* sure only white people existed then. What am I meant to do? Suspend my disbelief? That’s ridiculous.

So. You can’t put something untruthful onstage. I have really taken this to heart with my new season of productions.

Everyone in my production of Les Mis is being injected with tuberculosis. Well, 81%, to reflect the prevalence of TB in 1862. And we’re hoping that 38% of those injected will succumb to the virus- and then we’ll re-cast. So as well as being truthful and accurate, it’s also providing work for potentially thousands of young actors if everything goes to plan. Oh and it’s being done in French. With French actors. In France.

I can’t wait until only Danish men play Hamlet. I’m sick of all this “but David Tennant and Andrew Scott and Rory Kinnear are really good actors- the role of Hamlet should go to the best actors.” Um, hello? Are they from Denmark? No. Well then it’s not truthful.

We made headlines recently with our production of Starlight Express- with actual trains. Yes, several audience members were killed and hundreds more were badly injured but it’s very difficult to stop a 5000 ton train before it reaches the audience. But, you know, I think that’s worth it. For authenticity. And as they were being carried away on stretchers I imagine those audience members were thinking “wow, that was really truthful. It was just like a train was right there on stage, careening towards me.” Because it was.

We’re getting through a lot of actors in our production of Sweeney Todd but I was adamant that fake blood was NOT to be used. That is NOT truthful. If the actors sitting in the barber’s chair don’t actually die, the audience will be like, “huh? Did Sweeney Todd just pretend to murder people, then? I don’t understand.”

There are adults playing children in Blood Brothers? What the hell? Audiences were probably coming away thinking the play was set in a weird alternative reality where adults give birth to other adults. Or at least that’s what I thought until I had it explained to me.

I don’t want audiences to have to imagine anything or suspend disbelief- it all needs to just be right there in front of them. Truthfully. Eventually I hope fiction won’t exist at all. It’s all just too confusing.

Gemma Arrowsmith is a comedy writer/performer. Visit her website or her YouTube channel. Or follow her on Twitter.