Rufus Norris: UK 'behind US' in black casting
Director Rufus Norris, a potential successor to Sir Nicholas Hytner as the next director of the National Theatre, has said the UK still lags behind the US in casting black actors.
He was speaking at the press night of The Amen Corner, which has an all-black company and stars Oscar-nominated British actress Marianne Jean-Baptiste.
She has spent the last decade living and working in Los Angeles.
Norris told the BBC: "In America, there is much more colour-blind casting."
The Amen Corner, written by celebrated author James Baldwin in 1954, addresses the role of the church in a black community in Harlem, New York.
Jean-Baptiste plays Sister Margaret, a community pastor whose life and faith are shaken when her teenage son's head is turned by jazz music and girls, and her wayward estranged musician husband returns.
The National's adaptation is peppered throughout with rousing gospel songs, sung by the main cast and the company at large, which includes members of the London Community Gospel Choir.
Speaking following a standing ovation, Norris continued: "Of course The Amen Corner's going to have an all black cast - you can't possibly do otherwise, but what we want to see is a more representative cast across the board in all dramas."Black companies
British actors such as David Harewood, who starred in the US hit show Homeland, have spoken about having to leave the UK to find work.
And Jean-Baptiste, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in the Mike Leigh film Secrets & Lies moved to Los Angeles more than a decade ago and has not worked in Britain since.
The Amen Corner will soon be joined by other theatre shows, such as The Color Purple and Fences - starring Lenny Henry - which boast predominantly black casts, but Norris insists that even theatre is failing to meet the criticisms of actors like Harewood and Jean-Baptiste head on.
"I think its fantastic that those shows are happening and that is a small part of the thing that David and other black actors talk about, but the real issue is that if you look at American TV drama and theatre, there is much more colour-blind casting.
"In normal life if you think of a businessman or a policeman or a gangster, there are certain cliches that go with all of those things and none of them are true.
"We are very much behind America in that sense and I think what Marianne was talking about when she left Britain to go and live in LA a long time ago, is still very true. It's the way we cast black actors."Warm reception
The play, has been warmly reviewed in the newspapers. The Independent praised Jean-Baptiste for turning a "magnificent performance" as Sister Margaret Alexander.
Charles Spender, writing in the Telegraph, said the production "finds the NT in spirit-lifting form".
"It is a work and a production full of humour but it is also deeply moving as it shows how faith can cause pain as well as joy, and the way those who praise God most passionately can be every bit as cruel and devious as those they denounce as sinners."
In the Daily Mail's four-star review, Quentin Letts wrote: "Marianne Jean-Baptiste is better in the lead role when Sister Margaret is showing her vulnerable side.
In her scenes as Margaret the unbending pulpiteer she maybe lacks some vocal power and physical stature. Yet she becomes a person we care about."
The Amen Corner runs at the National Theatre until 14 August.