Sunday, February 11, 2024

About Richard and Davros

There have been complaints that Michelle Terry is to play Richard III at the Globe. Not because she’s she’s the artistic director of the theatre and appears to have nabbed the plum role for herself, but because the monarch has a disability, and Ms Terry doesn’t. (The fact that she’s a woman isn’t an issue, it seems.)

As always, these arguments throw up further arguments; now we’ve dug up Richard’s body, we know the nature of his disability (scoliosis), so does this mean that only actors with this specific condition should play him? And if actors with other disabilities (Arthur Hughes, Mat Fraser, Peter Dinklage) are allowed to take the role, would that not throw up the rather reductive and insulting implication that all disabilities are much the same? I’m also a little confused by Fraser’s response to Terry’s casting: “I will be personally boycotting the production if it goes ahead with this casting,” he says. “I’m done with the pretenders.” Isn’t pretending what actors do?

But wait – since Richard embodies that horrid old trope about the disabled villain, should the role even be played at all? Or, if it is, shouldn’t we excise all the references to his disability – “rudely stamped” and so on – to fit 21st-century sensibilities? I mean, that would seem to be the stance taken by Russell T Davies, who has declared that the evil genius Davros should from now on have legs. Which does mean that nobody can complain if Michelle Terry plays him.

PS: While we’re here, can we stop saying that art that doesn’t quite gel with those modern sensibilities (Friends is a apparently a main offender) is “problematic”? Art, especially drama, that doesn’t present us with problems is all but pointless.

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