Royal Shakespeare Company: Only disabled actors should play role of Richard III, says outgoing boss

Only disabled actors should play role of Richard III, says outgoing Royal Shakespeare Company boss

  • Richard III is traditionally played with a hunchback or cane in Shakespeare play
  • Gregory Doran claimed no longer acceptable for able bodied actors to do role
  • Outgoing RSC chair said it’s like when white actors stopped playing Othello

Only disabled actors should play Richard III, the head of the Royal Shakespeare Company has suggested.

Gregory Doran, who has been in charge of the organization since 2012 and is now set to leave the RSC, said it was no longer accepted to not cast a disabled person in the role.

Richard III who is referred to in the Shakespeare play as ‘cheated of feature’ and ‘unfinished’ is traditionally played with a hunchback or cane.

Mr Doran’s late husband, Anthony Sher, gave several performances in the role – using a crutch – in a 1984 Royal Shakespeare Company performance in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

However, speaking to the Times in his first interview since his husband’s death, he said Sher’s performance would ‘no longer be acceptable’.

There has been an ongoing debate whether abled bodied actors should play disabled characters with Eddie Redmayne facing criticism for playing Stephen Hawking.

Gregory Doran, who has been in charge of the organization since 2012 and is now set to leave the RSC, said it was no longer accepted to not cast a disabled person in the role. Pictured: Mr Doran’s late husband Antony Sher playing Richard III in a Royal Shakespeare Company performance in 1988

mr doran

Mr Doran, outgoing RSC chair compared the casting of disabled actors as Richard III to the casting of black actors as Othello (pictured the Globe Theater in London, associated with Shakespeare)

Mr Doran compared the casting of disabled actors as Richard III to the casting of black actors as Othello.

He said: ‘Tony’s performance now would probably not be acceptable.

‘It’s the Othello syndrome isn’t it? That moment when white actors stopped thinking of Othello in their repertoire, because it was not acceptable to have blackface any more, at least until the level playing field is achieved.

‘It’s the same with disabled actors and Richard.’

Mr Doran (pictured) compared the casting of disabled actors as Richard III to the casting of black actors as Othello

Mr Doran (pictured) compared the casting of disabled actors as Richard III to the casting of black actors as Othello

The Royal Shakespeare Company has now chosen a disabled actor to play Richard III for the first time.

Arthur Hughes who is playing the Richard III in the upcoming production has already said it is ‘problematic in many ways’ for able bodied actors to take on disabled roles.

He told the Guardian: ‘It’s not to say [able bodied] people can never play these parts. But I think it’s time that we had that lived experience shown properly.’

But Four Weddings and a Funeral actor Simon Callow told the Times in 2019 he was a big fan of diversity but to use the theater for that purpose would ‘diminish’ it.

Mr Callow sarcastically claimed he would need to withdraw from playing all 37 characters of a Christmas Carol, including Tiny Tim as he was not able bodied or fat man as he is a thin actor.

View of the Swan theater hosting the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford upon Avon

Arthur Hughes who is playing the Richard III in the upcoming production has already said it is 'problematic in many ways' for able bodied actors to take on the role

View of the Swan theater hosting the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford upon Avon

He said: ‘Clearly, the reductio ad absurdum is that you can’t play Macbeth unless you’re a Scottish king, and everybody understands that isn’t the point.’

In 2019, Scope said it’s ‘disappointing that a disabled actor’ was not cast as the Elephant Man.

And in response to Mr Callow, Phil Talbot, head of communications at Scope, said its ‘not a terrible trouble with us’ but said disabled actors face barriers.

It was confirmed in 2012 that the real Plantagenet King Richard III had a curvature of the spine, although rumors of a withered arm have not been verified form the bones found in the Leicester car park in 2012.

Mr Doran will finish his chair of the RSC with the only Shakespeare play he has not directed, Cymbeline, and was going to retire in 2023 but said Sher’s death from cancer has been a factor in his decision to leave the post earlier.

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