Keira Dulake (@keiradulake20) talks about stunt casting in the theatre industry for @MTAS_Official.
Stunt casting is not new to the theatrical world, you could argue when Lloyd Webber cast ‘Some mothers do ‘ave em’s Michael Crawford as the Phantom in 1986, it was a clever casting move to get an audience in.
After a lot of heavy consideration, there’s a lot to be said both for and against celebrity casting. There is no doubt about it that stunt casting can efficiently get bums on seats. A big name + a popular show = a full house, right? Except this isn’t always the case. Only a few months back Guys and Dolls at the Phoenix Theatre cast Pitch Perfect star Rebel Wilson as their leading lady, Miss Adelaide, and yet the production still cut its run and ended early. There were mixed feelings about casting choice, I know many from the Musical Theatre Appreciation Society were unsure about Wilson in the role, yet The Stage reviewed it as ‘★★★★★ Rebel Wilson proves to be more than stunt casting in this superb revival’; which goes to show a celebrity name isn’t solely enough to sell a show as her cast in the role did not boost ticket sales enough to keep the show running.
Another example that personally for me, proved to be interesting casting, was Game of Thrones star Kit Harrington in Dr Faustus. Confession time; I have never seen an episode of Game of Thrones! But however, having studied Dr Faustus in terms of playwright and performance conditions. I knew what I was looking for, and Harrington certainly wasn’t it. He is a perfectly sufficient actor yet it felt as if Harrington lacked understanding of what the morality tale tries to teach and the deeper meanings of Faustus’ actions. However despite the bad representation of Marlowe’s work, the house was still packed! There were obvious GOT jokes in the play that went straight over my head, but were laughed at because it sounded like the majority of the audience were there to see Jon Snow, not John Faustus. Kit Harrington is an example on how stunt casting works, but at the same time it doesn’t. Yes it might sell the seats, but in terms of representation of a classic play, it most simply doesn’t. The show was given 2 ★ by The Guardian news, despite claiming that ‘he (Harrington) is much more than a TV icon’, which just goes to show this wasn’t suitable casting for the play or Harrington.
Another problem that has been a prominent story in our news this year is the one of illness and understudies. Now I don’t want to go into too much detail, because that is a whole new kettle of fish that can be left for another day! But in relation to celeb casting, its undoubtedly a problem we see arise from time to time. The most extreme being Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard earlier this year, followed by Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl. To a certain extent you can quite clearly see the problem; the show is advertised with a celebrities name and face all around London, fans buy tickets to the show just to see the big name and then the big name falls ill. It just screams disappointment doesn’t it? As far as I’m concerned this will always be the case. With casting a celebrity who is not used to an 8-show week, comes a big risk. It can be physically and emotionally draining and somewhere along the run they’re going to need a break. It is just a risk that comes with a celebrity name. Personally I think it just needs to be a bit more obvious when you book that you’re not guaranteed any certain performer.
And then of course, there’s the issue of casting for the sake of the name. There’s been recent ‘shenanigans’ regarding Sarah Harding’s cast in Ghost. The worst type of celebrity casting is when it’s obvious that is a put a performer way out of their depth. If they’re capable of the role, then there’s no reason to not cast them, but if it something that they’re physically not capable, it simply is not fair on the performer.
But this isn’t to say that celebrity casting will never work, there is much to be praised for celebrity casting; for example Nicole Scherzinger in CATS late last year; a ‘pop star’ whom carried out the role of Grizabella with great reviews. And then we have Lloyd Webber’s television competitions that can cast a great performer with real training who just needed a boost, whom also come with some form of name, having been seen in the homes of people across the nation for a number of weeks. These can be considerably good casting moves, and stunt casting is not always a flop. It has its downfalls, but it also has great benefits. The theatre industry always has and will continue to rely on celebrity casting to keep itself afloat. It won’t always work, but it’s usually worth a go.
Ultimately I believe that it doesn’t matter about the name, if they are good enough to carry the role in a professional manner, why not give them a chance?