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Julian Fellowes: ‘I agree it was odd not to have a diverse cast in Half a Sixpence’

Gerard Carey and Charlie Stemp in Half a Sixpence. Photo: Manuel Harlan
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Julian Fellowes has backtracked on his claims that the West End production of Half a Sixpence should be all-white to reflect historical truth, admitting that there should be diversity in the cast.

His remarks come after he told The Stage last week that the musical, for which he wrote the book, was justified in having an all-white cast because period productions cannot be “untruthful”. Half a Sixpence in set in Folkestone in 1900.

However, challenged on the casting decisions on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row programme, he admitted that there could be diversity within the cast, without “undermining the reality” of it.

Presenter Samira Ahmed said it was odd that there was no diversity in the musical.

Fellowes responded: “You’re putting me in a difficult spot. Because I kind of agree with you [that it seemed odd that the casting was all-white]. It’s not my call. But it is my show. I’m one of the contributors to the show. And I think it’s a very good show and the performers in it are terrific. I don’t want to sound judgemental.”

But he added: “With the chorus particularly, I think in future, one can afford to have a certain diversity without undermining the reality.”

Fellowes used the programme to reiterate that he was “very much in favour of diverse casting”.

“I think at the moment we are going at it wrongly by saying we must have more awards for black actors, the point is they must have better parts and they must be better cast and cast more often, and in the end the awards will follow,” he told the programme.

The writer also repeated his belief that theatre “is much more forgiving” in terms of diverse casting in period pieces and that there is “a slightly looser reality in a musical”.

He added that the musical Hamilton was moving the debate about onstage diversity forward, because of its diverse casting.

Listen to the programme here

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