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Shakespeare’s Globe criticised for non-disabled actor playing Richard III

Michelle Terry as Richard the third sitting on a chair holding an apple

The Shakespeare's Globe theatre has defended casting a non-disabled actor in the lead role of Shakespeare’s Richard III after the production received a barrage of complaints.

When it was announced artistic director Michelle Terry would play the king, who lived with  scoliosis, campaigners argued the role should have gone to a disabled actor.

In response, Terry said they understood any “pain and harm” felt by those who were disappointed with the casting decision.

Terry released a statement saying: "All programming and casting decisions across all seasons are made as consciously and rigorously as they possibly can be, and always in dialogue with members of our many communities."

They continued: "I will not alter my physicality to explore it. I will not be playing Richard with a visible or physical impairment, and we will frame this production in such a way as to make it very clear the lens through which this interpretation is being explored.

"This production does not equal a permanent revision of the play or the eternal erasure of the character’s impairment, or a rewriting of a historical figure.

"I acknowledge that for many, Richard III is an iconic disabled figure. I understand that this feels like a missed opportunity for a disabled artist to play a disabled character on a major UK stage, but it will come around again."

In the play, Richard III describes his physical appearance as “deformed, unfinished.”

The casting was criticised in an open letter by campaign group Disabled Artists Alliance signed by over 100 disabled theatre professionals who expressed their outrage and disappointment with the lead role going to a non-disabled actor, calling for an “immediate recast”.

It read: "Richard III is an iconic disabled character. Perhaps the most famous disabled character in the British canon.

"To see The Globe announce this casting within this production is shocking... The production cannot be successfully performed with a non-physically disabled actor at the helm, steering the complex and vitally important narrative.

"There’s been incredible progress made across all facets and routes of the industry regarding disabled inclusion, including the casting of disabled actors across disabled and traditionally non-disabled roles. But this role belongs to us. It is offensive and distasteful for Richard to be portrayed by someone outside the community."

Disabled actor Brittanie Pallett said: "Why is an artistic director of any theatre hiring themselves to play the lead when it's not their casting or lived experience?"

"Before anyone says it doesn't matter. Every time this happens more harm than good is done to disabled communities through misrepresentation."

[ Richard III has historically been portrayed as having one shoulder larger than the other, but tests have shown the King lived with scoliosis or curvature of the spine. ]

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