Who should play Jewish roles? your views, August 29
I remember when actors were required to actually act, and when the obsession with representation to the point of absurdity – as in last week’s letter – didn’t exist.
I’m curious to know how many of the cast members of all productions of Falsettos have been gay men, or gay men dying from Aids-related illnesses, or Jewish lesbians in a relationship with a non-Jewish lesbian, or the son of a man who divorced his wife and ran off with a friend who happened to be male?
While gay actors have played various roles across productions, I imagine none conforms quite so closely. So, is it only a certain set of cultural groups that have the right to demand to be portrayed by people similar to them? How boring it would be if suddenly only actors conforming to the various groups and tribes of characters were allowed to take those roles.
I have wanted to play Marvin since my first professional job out of college, not because he is a Jewish character, but because he is a gay character I can relate to. The character and his relationships have a powerful draw for me, as a gay man and a performer. Today, I become overwhelmed by the closing songs between Marvin and Whizzer, as I think of what losing my own husband in similar circumstances would do to me, and because I know people who experienced that exact loss during the HIV/Aids crisis.
Actors become actors because we want to create something beyond ourselves, not because we want to merely mimic some facet of who we already are.
John E Morris
Rome, Georgia US
Of course Jewish performers should be considered for Jewish parts – it would be a far more authentic and, in most cases, create a better performance because the player would feel it so much more. The best Tevye was played by a Jewish actor, the best Fagin, likewise.
Isn’t this dangerous? I’m happy for Simon Russell Beale to play a Lehman brother (don’t know if he is Jewish, and don’t care), Fiona Shaw to play Richard II, Clarke Peters to play Sky Masterson. If only Jewish people can play Jewish roles, it’s a very small jump to Jewish people playing only Jewish characters.
To try to claim that Jewish people are in some way missing out on acting roles in the same way South Asian and black actors have done in the past is bonkers, and demeaning to the people who are genuinely missing out on work because of the way they look. It’s also an argument that is undermined by the letter’s signatories, who are some of the great and good of British theatre, are Jewish, and are famous for roles that have no link whatsoever to being Jewish.
That this is all hung around Falsettos is bonkers. The characters are all from New York, but I don’t see anyone arguing that they ought only to be played by Americans. Or that the gay characters should only be played by gay men. Or that the character dying of Aids-related illness needs to be HIV-positive. There’s no campaign for Americanface, or Gayface, or HIVface. Why? Because that would be stupid. Actors act. That’s what acting is. It’s people pretending to be something they’re not.
In the letter the question is asked: “So why doesn’t it seem as if Jewish people are being treated as a protected minority in the industry?” The answer is that it isn’t necessary. Being Jewish is not a barrier to being cast in the way that being black, or East Asian is. Being the best actor for the role is surely the most important thing. Anything else is simply tokenism.
Richard Eyre on Shakespeare
I’ve only just (lamentably late) become a subscriber to The Stage and I’ve noticed I’ve provoked a headline: “Richard Eyre hits out at gender-swapped Shakespeare for ‘tampering’ with rhythms of text”. I was surprised at the touch of the tabloids in the headline as much as by the inaccuracy of the story beneath.
Here’s what happened: I gave a reading at Hay-on-Wye of a collection of poems (Place to Place) that I published last year and I was answering questions, mostly about the poems. One of the questioners asked whether I thought it was right to rewrite Shakespeare. I said that like many – or most – directors I’ve made small changes to lines of Shakespeare, but I didn’t approve of changes being made that involved adding extra syllables to a line and ruining the scansion. I might have made the same point about Cole Porter’s or Jay-Z’s lyrics.
I was then asked a question about whether I approved of changing the genders of Shakespeare’s characters. I said – attempting a joke – that I had absolutely no objection as long as extra syllables weren’t added.
As far as I’m concerned, you can change the gender of Shakespeare’s characters, their ethnicity, their class and their ages, and each time some new facet of the plays will be illuminated. I’m in favour of any and all productions of Shakespeare’s plays and what will invariably shine through them is the indelible essence of moral, ethical, romantic, and sexual ambiguity at their heart. I don’t understand people ‘objecting’ to the ways Shakespeare is performed: as the tide washes in over each production the plays themselves remain untouched.
Quotes of the week
“I am the first British black woman in history to be nominated for the main award at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival. And I did it with a show called To Catch a Dick! I am dead! I have died a death!” Comedian London Hughes (Twitter)
“If you’re in a Pinter play, you have to dig really deep and connect to terrible loss or excruciating pain, often massive volcanic emotion, and then you have to bottle it all up. You have to suppress it all.” Director Jamie Lloyd (New York Times)
“I don’t think theatre should be preachy, it should be more skilful than that. Like a Trojan horse carrying important stuff inside.” Actor Lindsay Duncan (Daily Telegraph)
“Up until recently I’d done seven years on the trot, so I’d like to step back for a bit and concentrate on television and film. I was so chuffed to get [ITV drama] A Confession, as when I’d decided I was going to stop theatre for a while I fully expected I would never ever get to play the kind of roles I do on stage.” Actor Imelda Staunton (Sunday Post)
“So much about the story is astoundingly on the nose. For example, I wanted to write something that subtly weaves themes about toxic masculinity around these events and then you learn that Hey Jo’s, the Soho Club the assassins visited after trying to poison Litvinenko, has a massive gold penis decorating its dance floor. And as a writer you’re almost cursing reality for making it all seem basic.” A Very Expensive Poison writer Lucy Prebble (oldvictheatre.com)
We need your help…
When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.
The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.
We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.
Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.