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Presenters and nominees at The Stage Debut Awards demand more diverse new writing

Presenter Phyllida Lloyd with winner Akshay Sharan
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Director Phyllida Lloyd and musical theatre star Adrienne Warren were among presenters and nominees at The Stage Debut Awards 2018, who called for new writing on Britain’s major stages to be more diverse.

Mamma Mia! director Lloyd, who presented the best actor in a play award, told The Stage: “There have been some hopeful signs; more writing, more companies that are giving opportunities for more diverse groups of actors, but still we are nowhere really and particularly when we consider our history, there are so many stories to be told.

“We need much more new writing that is more diverse.”

Lloyd argued more arts funding would increase the diversity of programming in theatres, as this “allows risks to be taken”.

She said: “That’s where people will try something that isn’t necessarily obviously commercial, so we need to invest more in the arts everywhere, not just in the theatre, it needs to be in schools and the criminal justice system particularly, it’s serious.”

Warren, who is the star of Tina: The Tina Turner musical, and the writers of refugee play The Jungle, Joe Robertson and Joe Murphy, also argued there are still “many voices not being heard” in mainstream theatre.

Warren said: “We are seeing the faces change on our stages, but I think this needs to continue.”

Warren was nominated for the Joe Allen Best West End Debut Award, as were Robertson and Murphy, who run refugee theatre company Good Chance.

Murphy said: “The next step for theatre, certainly in the West End, is how we make socially active theatre that is entertaining and welcoming to people of all different political opinions – theatre that reaches across the world so we’re bringing stories from all different parts of the world to understand each other more deeply.

“If we can see more of that, then that’s a great thing.”

Meanwhile, performer Akshay Sharan, who was presented with the best actor in a play award for his role in the National Youth Theatre’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, added: “Being Indian and getting to do something where I’m playing a Pakistani character, there’s an element I can relate to, but still in an industry that doesn’t have enough roles like that, has been amazing.

“There definitely needs to be more of that, there isn’t enough at the moment. [The UK] is the country I was born in, which prides itself on welcoming the world, so theatre needs to exhibit that in what is being performed, shown and produced.”

“If we can keep telling stories that really matter and that move people, whether it’s a voice that needs to be heard, if it’s an immigrant story, if it’s about diversity, let’s do work that moves people and changes minds.”

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