'Too black' panto rant stirs Sleeping Beauty producer

Promotional photo for Sleeping Beauty, to be staged at the Stag Theatre in Sevenoaks Image copyright Stag Theatre
Image caption The Sleeping Beauty cast includes Ricky Norwood, from EastEnders, Jasette Amos and pop trio Cleopatra

Theatre staff have been stunned by accusations that their Christmas pantomime is "too black".

A caller to the Stag Theatre in Sevenoaks complained that the number of "ethnic minorities" in Sleeping Beauty was not representative of the town.

Producer Jamie Wilson responded with a wry open letter that said: "Skin colour should not be relevant. How many is too many?"

"My first draft was a bit angrier", he added.

Mr Wilson said he chose the cast - which includes Ricky Norwood, from EastEnders, and singing group Cleopatra - based on their ability and suitability for the production, which runs from 2 December to 8 January.

Image copyright Stag Theatre
Image caption The producer chose Cleopatra because he could not find local "yummy mummies" with the singing ability, he said

He said a member of box office staff was upset and frustrated by the enquiry and told the caller - who he is calling Mr Smith to protect his identity - there were white people in the cast of around 24, as well.

But "Mr Smith" replied that there were "still five of them", Mr Wilson added.

Image copyright Jamie Wilson
Image caption An excerpt from producer Jamie Wilson's open letter

He chose not to reply personally to "Mr Smith", who had asked for a response, but to send an open letter to Kent Live "to make people stop and think".

"It's so shocking that someone should be so brazen," he said.

Image copyright Russell Harper Photography
Image caption Jamie Wilson (centre) said there had always been black people in his pantomimes

His letter mocks the complaint and suggests he could not find suitable candidates from the good people of Sevenoaks.

"All the middle-aged bankers are too busy with the daily commute to take five weeks out to star in panto," he wrote.

And of Cleopatra lead singer Cleo Higgins: "I mean, she's black, but I guess she can sing a bit."

According to the 2011 Census, 0.9% of Sevenoaks' population is black, African, Caribbean or black British, compared with 3.3% for England and Wales.

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