Blind actor to play Oedipus

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It is one of the most celebrated roles in theatre. Gielgud and Olivier have played him, the character has spawned three films, an opera by Stravinsky, and new interpretations from Jean Cocteau, Peter Brook and Simon Callow.

And now, for what is thought to be the first time, an actor with a natural aptitude for the part, is playing him.

John Wilson Goddard is believed to be the first ever blind actor to play Oedipus, who is blinded in Sophocles' Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex, in a major production when he appears in Jonathan Neale's new play Oedipus Needs Help next month.

Goddard, 45, is unsurprised that he seems to be the first blind actor to play the most famous character in Greek tragedy. "The onus is on casting directors, or anyone else, to find out how we work, and it's not something people are fully aware of. The number of disabled actors is very small, and is still growing."

After 10 years of acting, including TV appearances in The Bill and One Foot in the Grave, Goddard asked Neale to write a part for him 18 months ago. The result is Oedipus Needs Help, which has a short spell at Brighton's Pavilion Theatre from 10 April, before opening at the Diorama Arts Centre, a new theatre in London's West End on Wednesday 17 April.

Goddard, who was an English teacher, a counsellor and a carpenter before he became an actor, asked Neale to write the play when he was short of work.

Neale, who has written 10 plays, hopes the first blind Oedipus will open doors for disabled actors. Oscar-winning performances of able-bodied actors Al Pacino and Daniel Day Lewis in disabled roles has drawn attention to the lack of roles being offered to disabled actors.

"I think it was a mistake not giving these roles to disabled actors," said Neale. "We are moving to a situation where black men are allowed to play all kinds of parts, and not just Othello. It's very rare that parts come up for disabled actors to do and I think they should get them."