Actor felt forced to quit musical after man was cast in trans woman role

'I think it could have been electric. It could have been quite magical'.

Annie Lord
Thursday 12 March 2020 11:45
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Transgender actor Kate O’Donnell has pulled out of high-profile musical Breakfast on Pluto after the main role of a trans woman Patrick/ Pussy Braden was given to a cisgender man, Fra Fee.

O’Donnell was set to play the mother in Breakfast on Pluto, but felt she could not continue with the role for she believes the casting decision “perpetuates the idea that trans women are men.”

She continued: “They are dressing up and misleading people. Also, creatively, it is just not interesting. To see a man in a dress, which is kind of what it will be, it reminds people of blacking up.

“The sad thing is to cast a trans person and me, having a trans mother having a go at their trans child … I think it could have been electric. It could have been quite magical.

“I think the arts world don’t get that … We are actually very interesting and when you put us in things, people see stories differently. That is what art is about – art is about helping people to see the world differently, and when you do this, nothing changes. [sic]

“This show will not change anything.”

Since the news of O’Donnell’s decision broke on Wednesday afternoon (March 11), the artistic directors of Derby Theatre and London’s Gate theatre followed 650 others in signing an open letter condemning the casting decision.

The show’s producers have responded to opposition by claiming that they reached out to the Irish transgender community using multiple channels, and auditioned a number of transgender performers for the role.

O’Donnell told The Guardian that they could have looked harder: “I know at least five people who could be Pussy who would be great”.

The actor also acknowledged that there was a relatively small number of trans performers, but said that there were reasons for that. “Theatre and performance is very gendered. A lot of trans people don’t feel comfortable even going for an audition. Because it is so gendered, what do you read?”

In a statement, the show’s producers responded: “We acknowledge that we all need to do more to support the trans community and the development of trans artists and we are looking to amplify and celebrate trans voices in other ways as part of the production.”

They also pointed out that a core member of the creative team were trans and that trans actor Rebecca Root was a consultant.

The musical tells the story of a trans woman’s escape from rural Ireland at the height of the Troubles. It is an adaptation of a Booker Prize-shortlisted novel written by Patrick McCabe.

In 2005, Neil Jordan adapted the book into a film which starred Cillian Murphy in the lead role of Patrick/Pussy Braden.

Cillian Murphy as Pussy in Breakfast at Pluto

The musical adaptation is set to be premiered in Galway in July before transferring to Dublin, the Birmingham Rep and the Donmar Warehouse in London.

The casting of cisgender people in trans roles remains a contentious issue. In 2018 Scarlett Johansson pulled out of Rub and Tug after her casting as trans male Dante ‘Tex’ Grill received widespread backlash for the casting decision.

In 2015, Eddie Redmayne received an Oscar nomination for his role as a transgender pioneer in The Danish Girl. In more recent interviews, he has acknowledged “years of cisgender success on the back of trans stories”.

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