Shakespeare’s Wars of the Roses is being staged without a single black actor. So what?

By Robert Gore-Langton for The Spectator, 5 September 2015

Shakespeare’s ‘Wars of the Roses’ will have no ethnic minority actors in the cast when the shows (two Henry VI plays and Richard III) open at the Rose Theatre, Kingston upon Thames, later this month. A sprinkling of so-called BME (black and minority ethnic) actors in Shakespeare has been the norm for ages now. So the decision by the director to go with an all-white cast has caused much hurt and concern from the actor’s union Equity, the Guardian, and from various groups promoting racial diversity in the arts.

From all the fuss, you’d think the plays are being directed by a hooded white supremacist. In fact they are being done by Trevor Nunn, former boss of both the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre, and not a chap you could accuse of political incorrectness. This is the man who once said that calling actors ‘luvvies’ in public was as offensive as using the n-word. Sir Trev does not have a racist bone in his body and no one has done more than he to update and popularise Shakespeare’s plays for modern audiences. His mistake on this occasion was, perhaps, to explain himself. His theory is that by casting the rival Yorkist and Lancastrian factions with white actors only, it’ll be easier for us to work out who everyone is. ‘Everything possible must be done to clarify for an audience who is related by birth to whom. Hence, I decided that, in this instance, these considerations should take precedence over my usual diversity inclination.’

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