Cameron Mackintosh has moved to address the number of minority ethnic actors appearing in musical theatre productions, amid pressure from South Asian performers about the lack of representation in shows such as Les Misérables and The Phantom of the Opera.
Staff from Mackintosh’s company held a meeting with performers this month, following tweets by Irvine Iqbal and Blythe Jandoo highlighting that Les Misérables has only had one South Asian cast member in the 35 years it had been running, while The Phantom of the Opera, Wicked and Matilda had none.
1. Les Mis has been on for 35 years = Only 1 South Asian Representing
2. Phantom has been on for 34 years = None
3. Wicked has been on for 15 years = None
4. Matilda has been on for 9 years = None
So many years, so much talent and no representation! #RepresentationMatters
— Blythe (@blythejandoo) January 8, 2020
Research into cast diversity in West End musicals by The Stage in 2019 also revealed The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables to be among the shows with the lowest percentage of black, Asian and minority ethnic cast members.
Jandoo met with a representative from Cameron Mackintosh on January 20, submitting a list of South Asian actors already working in musical theatre to highlight the existing talent base.
Other points raised in the meeting included a lack of South Asian actors going to drama schools, with plans discussed for the South Asian acting community to run outreach programmes.
I welcome the meeting carried out with @CamMackLtd engaging the collective frustration in the lack of south asian representation in shows such as Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera. A record of talent was submitted with a musical theatre workshop planned in the future.
— Irvine Iqbal (@IrvineIqbal) January 21, 2020
Representatives from Mackintosh’s company also highlighted existing plans to host a workshop for black, Asian and minority ethnic performers interested in a career in musical theatre.
This will take place on February 27 and be run by Paul Wooller and Felicity French from Cameron Mackintosh Ltd. It has been arranged in partnership with Suraj Shah from Twitter campaign @BAMEBAMEBAMEE, which advocates for under-represented actors.
Iqbal told The Stage: “The meeting was welcomed after years of complete erasure. These shows have been on for more than 30 years.
“South Asian talent is in surplus, however The Stage’s research revealed a lack of representation despite this talent surplus.”
He added: “We can’t ignore the current talent base who are experienced, trained and qualified to at least be considered for an audition and not be ignored. This is a positive step from Cameron Mackintosh openly engaging with the issue of lack of representation and acknowledgement of it.”
Jandoo said: “It was discussed that the South Asian acting community could also outreach to South Asian communities in London to encourage young kids to get involved in theatre and perhaps even pursue a career in it.
“It is a great idea but had shows such as Aladdin, Bend It Like Beckham and Bombay Dreams not opened in the West End, people like us might never have got our big break and therefore credibility.”
She added: “The hope is that one day there’ll be a place for us in the long-running West End shows.”
Cameron Mackintosh Ltd. has been contacted for comment.