The Royal Shakespeare Company has accused the Daily Mail’s Quentin Letts of a “blatantly racist attitude” for suggesting an actor in one of its productions was only cast because he is black.
In a review of The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich, Letts said Leo Wringer was “miscast” and went on to criticise the RSC’s “clunking approach to politically correct casting”.
In response, the RSC’s artistic director, Gregory Doran, and its executive director, Catherine Mallyon, said they were “shocked and troubled” by the content of the review.
“He seems to demonstrate a blatantly racist attitude to a member of the cast,” they said in a joint statement. “We are very proud to be working with every member of the company, each of whom has been asked to join us in Stratford because we value and recognise their unique skills and talents.
“Our approach to casting is to seek the most exciting individual for each role and in doing so to create a repertoire of the highest quality. We are proud that this ensures our casts are also representative of the diversity of the United Kingdom, that the audiences which we serve are able to recognise themselves on stage and that our work is made and influenced by the most creative range of voices and approaches.”
They condemned Letts for his “ugly and prejudiced commentary”.
Wringer is an experienced actor with a lengthy Shakespearean résumé, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, King Lear and Romeo and Juliet. Among his other stage credits are Blackta, a satire whose title refers to the slang for a black actor often cast as the token non-white character in a TV drama. He is a familiar face on television, appearing in the likes of Canterbury Tales, Silent Witness and Law & Order, and he has also appeared on the big screen.
In Friday’s review, Letts wrote of Wringer’s performance as a nobleman: “There is no way he is a honking Hooray of the sort that has infested the muddier reaches of England’s shires for centuries. He is too cool, too mature, not chinless or daft or funny enough.
“Was Mr Wringer cast because he is black? If so, the RSC’s clunking approach to politically correct casting has again weakened its stage product.
“I suppose its managers are under pressure from the Arts Council to tick inclusiveness boxes, but at some point they are going to have to decide if their core business is drama or social engineering.”
Among others who leapt to Wringer’s defence was the director and actor Samuel West, who described him as “a great actor with plenty of classical experience”.