Colour-blind casting finds new stars for Billy Elliot

The mining communities of the North-east of England where the fictional Billy Elliot grew up were largely bastions of the white working-class. But the new cast of the hit musical will be more ethnically diverse, thanks to a training scheme and "colour-blind" casting that has now produced a black-British Billy, a Chinese-British Billy, one Irish and one American.

Stephen Daldry, who directed the film and the stage versions, yesterday presented the next set of young stars specially trained for the central role.

"I'm incredibly proud," he said. "The tenacity and determination and courage of these children is almost magnified in children that come from different ethnic backgrounds. It would be morally reprehensible not to choose them. The casting department has never been given any guidelines on the racial background. They respond only to their enthusiasm and talent."

All the boys were trained at the Billy Elliot school in Leeds, which makes efforts to find children from all backgrounds, not least because the Billy role is so demanding there are comparatively few who can do it.

Daldry said it was a "misconception" that dance training was not available to people from every background, because both the Leeds school and the Royal Ballet's own White Lodge school worked hard to spread their net wide. But it was tough. "Most of the boys have already been dancing for years and have already been through a huge amount of prejudice and bullying because they're the only boy usually in the dance class. But when you come to a situation with Matthew Koon, whose parents are from Hong Kong but is very much a Manchester boy, you can imagine another level of prejudice.

"There's a level of suspension of disbelief when you go to the theatre. When you're watching a show and miners are tap-dancing or in tutus you're in the realm of make-believe."

But he paid credit to the work of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre for making colour-blind casting the theatrical norm, though only within the past 20 years.

Richard Eyre, the former head of the National Theatre, said there were two productions where the issue was debated.

The first was Guys and Dolls in 1982, when he wanted to cast the black actor Clarke Peters as the lead Sky Masterson. "Everybody thought Clarke was so great why on earth should we not be able to cast him?"

The second was when he wanted the black actor Clive Rowe as Mr Snow in Carousel in 1993. He won that debate too.

Eyre believes audiences now accept such casting. "In theatre, everything depends on the imagination of the audience. It's metaphor," he said. In recent years, there have been striking performances by black actors in roles which social verisimilitude would deem white.

Black breakthroughs

1930 Paul Robeson plays Othello in the West End, when it was the norm for white actors to "black up" for the part. He reprised the role in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1959.

1982 Clarke Peters plays Sky Masterson, the role made famous by Marlon Brando, in the National's Guys and Dolls.

1990 Josette Simon plays the female lead in Arthur Miller's After the Fall at the National Theatre, London, a role widely believed to be based on Miller's former wife, Marilyn Monroe.

1993 Clive Rowe plays Mr Snow in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel at the National Theatre.

1998 Carlos Acosta becomes the first black principal dancer with the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, taking roles including Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake.

2000 Ray Fearon becomes the first black actor to play Othello on the RSC's main stage in Stratford since Robeson.

2000 David Oyelowo becomes first black actor to play an English monarch, Henry VI, for the RSC.

2001 Adrian Lester plays Hamlet directed by Peter Brook at the Young Vic, London, and in Paris. He also plays a male Rosalind in As You Like It and, in 2003, Henry V at the National.

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee