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Star of all-white Half a Sixpence claims ‘industry can do more’ for diversity

Emma Williams at the 2017 WhatsOnStage Awards. Photo: Dan Wooller Emma Williams at the 2017 WhatsOnStage Awards. Photo: Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage
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Award-winning actor Emma Williams has said the industry “can do more” for diversity, following criticisms of musical Half a Sixpence for having an all-white cast.

Williams, who plays Helen Walsingham in the show, said she looks forward to a time when “everything is so diverse we won’t need to ask questions about it”.

Her comments come after Julian Fellowes defended the all-white casting in the production, claiming period stage productions have less of a responsibility to employ diverse casts than shows set in the modern day.

Williams’ comments were made at the 2017 WhatsOnStage Awards, where she won best supporting actress in a musical for her role in the David Heneker revival.

She said: “I think there’s more we can do as an industry to make sure more people are represented.

“I look forward to a time when, as an industry, we aren’t asking questions like that anymore, because everything will be so diverse we won’t need to ask questions about it.

“We’ll have women and people of all races and religions and sexualities playing every role and it won’t matter, because we’re all human.”

Williams also spoke about roles for women in the industry, claiming it can be a “difficult career for women once you get past a certain age”.

She said: “I think there can be more roles for women. I studied Shakespeare and I studied people like Fiona Shaw playing amazing Shakespearean roles.

“For women in this industry, it’s nice to be able to break outside of the role you are given. It’s a very difficult career for women if you get past a certain age.

“I’m working with three astonishing women over the age of 30 right now and that sounds so silly to say, but as a 33-year-old in this industry you see your future in the women that you work with, and I’m working with women who are all superb and absolutely superlative in this industry. They give me hope for my future.”

She added: “I think there will always be a problem for older women in every industry in this time, not just theatre, and the more we can do to support each other the better this world will be.

“It should be a place where you are born and you should be able to say to yourself: ‘everything is possible’.”

Half a Sixpence was the most successful musical at the WhatsOnStage Awards, with Charlie Stemp winning best actor in a musical and Andrew Wright winning best choreography.

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