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Theatre director blasts Shakespeare’s Globe for giving the part of Richard III to non-disabled actor

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

One of the co-directors behind the Paralympic Games in 2012 has accused non-disabled actors of ‘creeping up’ to take roles of disabled characters.

Jenny Sealey believes the parts should go to individuals with disabilities or hearing loss instead.

The 61-year-old is the director of Graeae Theatre Company, formed of deaf and disabled artists.

She expressed her concern after the part for Richard III at Shakespeare Globe Theatre went to a non-disabled actor, disabled the character having scoliosis.

Mrs Sealey, who has been deaf since the age of seven, told BBC Radio Four’s Desert Island Discs: 'It's a whole series of a few steps, or wheels, forward and a hundred back.

'We have been making some fantastic in-roads.

'But at the same time, there are people who are cripping up, saying I could play Richard III, and it's like hang on a minute.’

Earlier this year it was announced Michelle Terry, artistic director of the Globe Theatre, would play Richard III when the play opens in London this summer.

Sealey said: 'The world out there thinks that acting should be about playing anybody, absolutely, I get that.

'And people say ''Oh Jenny, you want your cake and you can eat it''.

'I said too right, I do, because we actually have not had a full cake yet, we've been given slivers.

'I want the full cake and I want more, so I do want, for my artists, and the deaf and disabled community, to play the roles that are for deaf and disabled characters.

'But also, a whole plethora of roles, until we have absolute priority.'

She continued: 'Best practise? Have deaf and disabled people in the room when you're casting.

'I always cast the best person for the job.

'Their physicality, their disability, their impairment, that is part of who they are.

'Can they act? Yes, brilliant. And if they're rubbish then they don't get the job.’

There was a backlash when Terry was announced for the role in January from those believing the part should have gone to a disabled actor.

Brittanie Pallet, a disabled performer, reacted to the news on X, saying: 'Why is an artistic director of any theatre firing themselves to play the lead when it's not their casting or lived experience?

'The misrepresentation and misinformation causes actual daily harm to the lives of real disabled people.

'The work we make is, in varying degrees, a reflection of our society and our beliefs about the people we share the world with. Most people's only experience of disabled life is through the stories we tell so it's bloody dangerous when we get that wrong.'

In response, Terry said The Globe ‘hoped to provide an opportunity for all people to engage and participate in stories, told carefully and with beautiful imperfection and hopefully inspire us all to engage in the conversation,' of what it means to be human.

A statement from The Globe said: 'We recognise the barriers to access in our industry and to our organisation and we are working hard to address that.

'We believe the Shakespearean canon is based on a foundation of anti-literalism and therefore all artists should have the right to play all parts in, and the casting across all our work year-round is no different.'

But the theatres' response ruffled a few more feathers, one person who was not satisfied with the statement was Ben Wilson, a blind actor who was in Pirates of the Caribbean.

He said:  'Thought the battle for Richard III was starting to be won, but this feels like we're taking about 10 steps backwards.'

[ Arthur Huges was the first disabled actor to play Richard III in 2022. ]

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