Sunday, 20 November 2016

Let's look at the whole picture

We've been at Julie and Sam's at Craft and Cake all day today. Nathan is really under the weather with this cold, and I'm still suffering. I feel like my head's in a big jar of cotton wool, like the one my Grannie had in her blue bathroom, next to all of the fascinating-looking bottles of scent and the crocheted loo roll covers. But let's not talk about smells. I can't smell or taste a thing at the moment. I can distinguish between salt and sweet, and that's about it.

Craft and cake was lovely. Stephen West was there who I'm not sure I've seen since we spent a week in Italy together at Julie's house. Crafters reading this blog will possibly know Stephen's name as a top designer of knitwear. Walk into any yarn shop, say his name, and all the people behind the counter will go weak at the knees!

There was some lovely grub today which included an eccentric-sounding banana and pumpkin loaf, which tasted wonderful. Or did it? It had a nice texture! Tina made us all a sticky toffee pudding. Again, I was desperate to taste it properly because it looked beautiful. I thought the dates in it were pears. That tells you quite how screwed up my taste buds are right now!

We watched Strictly, which triggered a heated discussion about race. I'm not sure why. A lot of talk is happening at the moment about the need for colour blind casting and the lack of opportunities for BAME people in musical theatre. Traditionally, of course, there have been pitifully fewer opportunities for black and Asian performers in theatre. But things are improving (slowly) and many people out there are attempting to address the issue. Sadly, I sometimes feel that the changes which ARE happening are failing to register with people as they search for ever more examples of white-washing.

I feel it's really important that the leaps which are being made towards racial equality in the industry aren't swept under the carpet. This has to include acknowledging that there are presently a fairly large number of opportunities for BAME performers in the West End. When casting Beyond the Fence (where we ran a policy of complete colour blind casting) we were told that it was actually quite difficult to get BAME actors to come to castings for ensemble roles, because so many high calibre BAME actors were already in work in shows like Thriller, Memphis and Motown. Certainly our experience when it came to casting the male ensemble in the show bailed this theory out. When we put our hands on our hearts, we had to acknowledge that the three best actors for these three ensemble roles were the three white men we'd auditioned. Casting one of the less experienced, less well-prepared BAME actors we'd seen would have been tokenism. And wholly unfair.

Critic, Matthew Hemley, recently wrote an article in The Stage where he lambasted British musical theatre for its all-white casts, without a single mention of shows like Moby Dick, which featured two black leads (in roles you might expect to have been played by white people) and Wasted, at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, where actresses from three separate ethnicities play the Brontë Sisters. It's wholly inappropriate, in my view, to point out what's bad in theatre without acknowledging what's good, because you're not painting a complete picture.

He writes about camp clichés in Lloyd Webber's School of Rock, but did he bother to come and see Brass? A more subtle and complicated exploration of homosexuality would be hard to find.

Sometimes I want to throttle these critics and say, "look beyond the shows which open in the West End, and see what people ARE doing in musical theatre. The ones written by people who can't get their heads above the parapet." There's some amazing work going on. If only we'd all open our eyes a little.

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