Transgender actor and campaigner Kate O’Donnell has revealed she withdrew from a musical co-produced by the Donmar Warehouse after a male cisgender actor was cast as a trans woman in the show.
O’Donnell had been due to appear in Breakfast on Pluto, based on the novel by Patrick McCabe, but said she felt she had to decline the part after the lead role of Patrick/Pussy was given to cisgender actor Fra Fee.
The show is co-produced by Landmark Productions, Galway International Arts Festival and Birmingham Repertory Theatre in association with the Donmar, who said in a statement that the creative team had “conducted a wide search for the lead”.
O’Donnell said she was due to play the part of Patrick/Pussy’s mother, Ma Braden, but felt she had to decline the role.
She told BBC News: “I was offered the part and realised with the heaviest of hearts – because West End theatre production roles do not come along every day especially when you’re a trans performer – that I was going to have to decline the role.”
O’Donnell added: “I could not be in a show where a trans woman is once again seen as a man in a dress, as this perpetuates the idea that this is what a trans woman is and leads to violence, even death.
“I know that the production has countered the uproar about this: they did try to cast a trans person. But I would suggest that they didn’t try hard enough.”
Fee’s casting has also sparked widespread criticism on social media.
Actor Harrison Knights, who runs an initiative to address a lack of representation of trans and non-binary performers in musical theatre, accused the production of “perpetuating the idea that trans women are men in dresses” and said the producers needed to “start taking [trans actors] seriously”.
The statement from producers went on to say that it had engaged a trans consultant during the show’s casting and development process.
They said: “In addition to holding auditions in London, we reached out to the Irish transgender community through multiple channels, and auditioned a number of performers who identified as transgender for the role of Patrick/Pussy Braden.
“We acknowledge that we all need to do more to support the trans community and the development of trans artists and we are looking to amplify and celebrate trans voices in other ways as part of the production.”
The producers added: “We have been keen to ensure that trans voices have been central to the development of this new musical.
“A key member of the core creative team is trans, and a leading trans actor, Rebecca Root, has been production consultant since last year; her brief includes advising on script as well as the casting process.”
The statement added that the Donmar is also working with trans-led charity Gendered Intelligence to run an actor showcase for trans performers alongside Breakfast on Pluto.
A statement from Gendered Intelligence said: “As a trans-led organisation, Gendered Intelligence wants to see more roles for trans actors as well as trans people in all aspects of the creative process (trans writers, trans directors, trans stage managers etc).
“Trans people face significant barriers in their careers in the creative industries due to barriers of opportunity to learn and gain skills as well as experiencing prejudice in the industry itself. This needs to change.
“Trans people, including young trans people, need to see themselves positively represented on stage and elsewhere.”
The musical opens at Galway International Arts Festival in July, and will then run in Dublin, Birmingham and London, where it will play at the Donmar in October.