Casting is-in part-a matter of appearance. Colour blind casting, says David Nathan, creates confusion and often ends up denying the existence of racismby David Nathan / November 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
Integrated casting is the code phrase for casting black actors in what were once thought of as white roles. It can result in members of one family, say the Capulets or the Macbeths, being of different colours without, as it were, anyone noticing it. I am not talking about modern plays in which black actors play lawyers, shopkeepers or thieves; these are roles in which colour is irrelevant. But the moment any attempt is made to discuss the issue rationally, there are accusations of racism. As a result many producers and directors are scared to give their opinions publicly, though I know of many who refuse to cast against colour.
The case for integrated casting is that if the acting is good enough, the colour is not noticeable. The reality is that the colour of an actor’s skin is as noticeable as his height, his weight and his age. Casting is, in part, a matter of appearance: Judi Dench, who was a splendid Juliet in her youth, could not play Juliet now because she would instantly be seen as too old for the part. She could still play it on radio, because her voice is flexible enough to carry conviction. Miriam Margoyles’s miraculous voice is a silken escape ladder allowing her to flee her ample figure and inhabit slim blondes, skinny models and young girls. If she wished, she could be Betjeman’s Joan Hunter Dunne with “the speed of a swallow and the grace of a boy.” But only on radio. Good actress as she is, she would lack conviction on the stage.
The world is full of actors who are unsuitable for certain roles because of their appearance. Skin colour is simply one of the factors. Not that it matters if the play is set in Illyria, whose inhabitants may have been of hues unknown to modern eyes. What matters colour in Ephesus where dwell sorcerers, witches, prating mountebanks and many suchlike liberties of sin? Places such as the wood near Athens, the sea coast of Bohemia and the Forest of Arden may have a nominal connection with geography-but their real location is in the imagination.
It was incredibly stupid of Richard Ingrams to object to a black actor playing the role of Mr Snow in Nicholas Hytner’s production of Carousel, on the grounds that black people did not live in 19th century Maine fishing villages. Did 19th…