Letter: Blacking up

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Sir: The banning of black make-up for white actors by a local authority in Warwickshire ( report, 26 August) is as absurd and unhelpful as the idea that Verdi's Otello must be a black tenor or Shakespeare's Shylock a Jew. This is the theatre, for God's sake. Make-up is just a mask.

Of course there's always an element of "the right fit" in casting. Thin actors need padding for Falstaff. You can be too old for Hotspur, too young for Lear. But women have sometimes played Hamlet and we're used to countertenors affecting the female range of voice.

The point of theatre is developing imagination. The question with an all-white chorus blacking up for Showboat is: will the production demean the ordinary black people it portrays? Will it show them to be dumb or naive? Even if it did, would that establish the truth of such ideas - or throw them into uncomfortable relief?

The issue is not racial stereotyping but theatrical censorship. If the free range of the theatrical convention is limited by rules of decorum that ban blacking up, the theatre's ability to explore the truth about all our lives is crippled. Do we really want black actors in Shakespeare limited to the roles of Othello and perhaps Caliban? Stand up to destructive political correctness. Black up, and reveal the truth about our shared humanity.


London SW16