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Editor’s View: West End musicals lead the way on diverse casting but there are still some major gaps

Adrienne Warren (centre) in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. Photo: Manuel Harlan Tina: The Tina Turner Musical is one of several West End shows featuring predominantly performers of colour. Photo: Manuel Harlan
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Our research into West End musical theatre casts makes for some refreshingly upbeat reading. This marks the first time that we have conducted this survey into the gender and ethnic breakdowns of performers in Theatreland, but I suspect the current state of play marks a historic high point when it comes to onstage diversity in commercial theatre.

The results reveal a West End that is significantly more representative than British television and probably more representative than most people would have expected. But, on reflection, perhaps it isn’t that surprising. A number of new productions have opened in recent years with casts predominantly featuring performers of colour – the likes of Hamilton, Motown and Tina: the Tina Turner Musical.

When we repeat this process in future years, we will be able to see whether the current results have been skewed by these productions or whether, when they move on, the West End maintains the current levels of diverse casting when it comes to shows that do not have stories that specifically call for black, Asian or minority ethnic performers.

As well as answering a number of questions, the research data raises a few more.

What would the figures be for other sections of UK theatre? I’m not aware of public data detailing casts working for funded theatre organisations, but my suspicion is that they would not be as high as in the commercial world, which – it’s worth remembering – is not specifically funded to pursue a diversity agenda. Perhaps this is something that the arts councils can help shine a light on.

What would the figures be for West End audiences? Again, I’m not aware of any available up-to-date data: the last overview of West End audience demographics was published 15 years ago by the Society of London Theatre and Ipsos MORI. Perhaps it’s time to repeat the undertaking to see whether anything has changed.

And, finally, thinking back to my column last week: what would the figures be (both in terms of gender and ethnicity) when it comes to the offstage teams working on West End musicals?

Data can be a very powerful tool in both monitoring and motivating change, as well as recognising and celebrating when positive strides have been made. The figures we publish this week are encouraging, but there are still many holes that need to be filled before we have a complete picture of where theatre sits and how good a job it is doing at reflecting modern Britain back at itself.

Alistair Smith is the editor of The Stage. Read his latest column every Thursday at thestage.co.uk/author/alistair-smith

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