It may have been one of the very first things I came across on Facebook this morning, but I think this certainly warrants a blog entry. The RSC has at last cast a disabled actor as Richard III. After years of campaigning, we are finally going to see a disabled actor portray a famously disabled character. “Now, for the first time, the Royal Shakespeare Company has cast a disabled actor in the title role of Richard III in a new production opening later this year. For Arthur Hughes, it is a “dream come true” although his first reaction to being cast as the 15th-century king of England was disbelief.” Hughes goes on to say how complex the character is, and how his own disability will help him portray the role.
In many ways this is quite a step forward. Disability activists have long campaigned for disabled characters to be played by disabled actors: there is something about the lived experience of having a disability – social exclusion, the feeling of being outcast or different etc. – that only we can bring to a role. More to the point, just as you wouldn’t cast a white actor in a black role, I think having able-bodied actors play disabled characters is a tad patronising: it sort of steals our voice from us, as if able-bodied people presume they can speak for disabled people. Believe me, we can speak for ourselves, given half a chance.
The article also touches upon When Barbara Met Alan, the upcoming BBC drama about DAN. I really can’t wait to see it. Arthur Hughes is in both. I’ll be intrigued to see what they do. Mind you, perhaps it’s worth pointing out that, without the activism of groups such as DAN, we wouldn’t now be seeing disabled actors in the RSC.