A transgender actress has pulled out of a new play in protest after a cisgender actor was cast as a trans character.
Kate O’Donnell was set to appear in a new stage musical adaptation of Patrick McCabe’s novel Breakfast on Pluto.
O’Donnell was due to play the mother of the main character, Patrick/Pussy Braden, but withdrew after that role was given to Irish actor Fra Fee.
The producers said they tried to find a trans performer for the role. O’Donnell said they didn’t try hard enough.
The show, described as a “musical of self-discovery”, will follow Patrick/Pussy from small-town Ireland to London in the 1970s.
It will be staged at the Donmar Warehouse in London in October, following runs in Galway, Dublin and at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre.
O’Donnell was due to have played Ma Braden, who is not a trans character.
“I was offered the part and realised with the heaviest of hearts – because West End theatre production roles do not come along every day especially when you’re a trans performer – that I was going to have to decline the role,” she told BBC News.
The casting of Fee sparked an outcry among the trans community on social media, and O’Donnell said the backlash was “justified and nothing new”.
Breakfast on Pluto was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1998 and was turned into a film in 2005, with Cillian Murphy in the lead role.
According to industry advice from trans-led charity Gendered Intelligence, having a cisgender man playing a trans woman increases prejudice because “many people internalise the myth that being trans is a performance, a deception, that trans women are ‘really men’.”
O’Donnell said: “I could not be in a show where a trans woman is once again seen as a man in a dress as this perpetuates the idea that this is what a trans woman is and leads to violence, even death.
“I know that the production has countered the uproar about this: they did try to cast a trans person. But I would suggest that they didn’t try hard enough.”
O’Donnell recently appeared in the musical Gypsy at Manchester’s Royal Exchange theatre and is artistic director of trans arts company Trans Creative, which runs the annual Trans Vegas festival in Manchester.
She said: “Last year our festival Trans Vegas staged events with over 150 trans voices performing in them. I will continue to find and make space to tell our own stories till the rest of the world catches up.”
‘We all need to do more’
A statement from the show’s producers said: “The partners offered Kate O’Donnell the role of Ma Braden in line with their usual casting processes. Kate declined the role and we all respect her decision.”
They said the show’s creative team had conducted a “wide search” to find someone to play the lead role.
“In addition to holding auditions in London, we reached out to the Irish transgender community through multiple channels, and auditioned a number of performers who identified as transgender for the role of Patrick/Pussy Braden,” they said.
“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 said a “key member of the core creative team” is trans, as is production consultant Rebecca Root, while a showcase for trans performers will be run with Gendered Intelligence at the Donmar Warehouse.
“We understand how many barriers there are to trans performers in this industry. We hope the showcase will provide an opportunity for directors and casting directors and trans performers to network, and to further diversify the sector,” the statement added.