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West End musicals diversity report: reaction from the industry

Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Photo: Pamela Raith Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Photo: Pamela Raith
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Kobna Holdbrook-Smith. Photo: Pamela Raith

“While diversity is embraced, as an idea, I don’t believe I see differently abled leads or leads of colour (and not just black people), unless there is a reason in the script or a directorial concept. When I see more of that, that’s when I’ll start to believe that theatremakers are seeing people as people. So while I embrace conversations about inclusion and diversity, they have yet to become real or visible on our stages and screens.”
Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

“It’s very encouraging to see that the success of shows such as Hamilton and Tina – The Tina Turner Musical are boosting the representation of minority ethnicity talent in the West End. That these shows are being made and receiving such audiences and critical acclaim shows that the campaign for proper representation is being heard. There is still work to do. No one wants ‘diversity’ to be tokenistic; so to see that female and BAME performers are far more likely to be in ensemble roles than lead roles proves there is still a way to go – similarly, the fact that Asian performers continue to be far under-represented from national averages. We applaud The Stage’s work on this and hope that further endeavours of this kind find ways to capture representation of disability and social class on stage. One things remains clear: we need to be looking at finding and employing diverse talent with nuance, detail and commitment in order to reflect the world we live in and not simply to tick a box.” Act for Change

See the report in full

Andrew Lloyd Webber. Photo: John Swannell
Andrew Lloyd Webber. Photo: John Swannell

“I am delighted to see the diversity of London’s population is to some extent represented on the West End stage, but more needs to be done. The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation commissioned a report, Centre Stage, in 2016, in part in response to concerns at LW Theatres, that there weren’t enough trained BAME performers to meet demand. Centre Stage showed that London’s theatres could be more representative – and thrive more – if we ensured talented young people from all backgrounds had access to training. The foundation is working to open the performing arts to a wider pool and I urge those in the industry to do the same.” Andrew Lloyd Webber

“The figure of only 1.1% of West End musical theatre cast members being of East Asian descent is shocking but at the same time unsurprising. As far as the West End is concerned, East Asian performers seem to exist (commercially successfully it should be stressed) in a narrow bandwidth that consists of The King and I and Miss Saigon. As with much of the mainstream UK stage and screen, East Asians are only perceived of in terms of exoticised otherness in places far away, and often in support of a white-saviour narrative, as opposed to being portrayed as any kind of intrinsic part of British life beyond that of foreign signifiers.” British East Asians in Theatre and on Screen

“Our experience over recent years indicates that diverse representation on West End stages has significantly improved. It remains a high priority for our members, who are constantly trying to push boundaries and create more opportunities for actors, in order to represent the world in which we live. It is positive to see that the proportion of BAME actors in the West End is above the national average and leading the way for other art forms. Representation is key to our work, and we continue to learn and improve.” Casting Directors’ Guild

Cassie Chadderton – head of UK Theatre and membership development

“The Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre are committed to encouraging diversity – off stage as well as on stage – and we welcome this research. We want a workforce that reflects our society. As well as few backstage workers from BAME backgrounds, there is also very little socio-economic diversity and few disabled people. SOLT and UK Theatre have invested in Get Into Theatre, a platform for young people considering a theatre career, and created a Diverse Casting Planning Kit. These complement other initiatives such as: Stage Sight – a peer-to-peer network sharing steps to achieve a more representative offstage workforce; Inspiring Future Theatre, which places industry ambassadors with schools and TheatreCraft – the UK’s biggest offstage theatre careers event.” SOLT and UK Theatre


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