A cis man has been cast as a trans woman in Breakfast on Pluto adaptation and people are furious
A musical adaptation of Breakfast on Pluto has cast Irish actor Fra Fee, a cisgender man, to play a transgender woman in the lead role.
The musical version of Frank McCabe’s novel will be staged at off-West End London theatre, the Donmar Warehouse, in autumn 2020.
The novel was shortlisted for the 1998 Booker Prize, and tells the story of a trans woman’s escape from a fictional Irish town and alcoholic foster mother.
Online reaction to Fee’s casting was swift and negative, with furious questions over the casting of a man to play a woman.
Robin Craig, a PhD student researching trans and disabled Shakespeare performances, tweeted: “The Donmar did such a wide search for trans talent before casting a cis person that none of my many trans actor friends, or any trans casting groups I’m aware of, had heard about the casting for Breakfast on Pluto until today.”
also not to say 'check out my soundcloud' but i am trans and am doing a phd on the politics of casting, and have worked as casting assistant before. i do freelance jobs sometimes and will be looking to do more towards the end of 2020/into 2021
— Robin Craig supports the UCU strikes (@robin__craig) March 9, 2020
The Evening Standard reports that both the Donmar and the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, where Breakfast on Pluto will also be staged, are working with trans-led charity Gendered Intelligence for “training and consultancy”, and that the London venue will “host an actor showcase for trans performers”.
The play is set in the 1960s and 70s and follows the journey of Patrick/Pussy Braden, the trans woman played by Fee, as she leaves home, moves to London, supports herself through sex work and is later arrested on suspicion of being an IRA bomber.
A 2005 film adaption of Breakfast On Pluto saw the lead role played by Cillian Murphy, another cis male actor.
Teddy Lamb, a self-described “theatre nerd” who runs Theatre Queers, a London meet-up for queer, trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people in theatre, asked on Twitter: “Fancy explaining why you’ve cast a cis man in a trans woman’s role in #BreakfastOnPluto?”
Many other trans theatre folk shared their frustration and anger on Twitter.
re Breakfast on Pluto: imagine if the (cis) people making programming decisions actually understood what it might mean to put on something from the trans canon of work, and viewed it as an opportunity to centre &platform trans artists? instead of just profiting from the art? wild
— Rafaella Marcus (@RafaellaMarcus) March 9, 2020
So disheartened to see the #breakfastonpluto casting decision.
Trans characters should be played by trans actors, it is so important. Especially in this hostile climate.
— temi wilkey ✨ (@twilkeyway) March 9, 2020
If you can’t cast a trans person in the role, you can’t do the show. Casting a cis person should never have been an option. Not good enough from the Donmar. The talent is there. Work harder. #BreakfastOnPluto
— Celine Lowenthal (@celinelowenthal) March 9, 2020
And Kate O’Donnell, a trans artistic director, revealed that she’d originally been cast to play Pussy Braden’s adopted mother in the musical adaptation of Breakfast on Pluto but had turned it down after learning that a cis man had been cast in the lead role to play a trans woman.
While @DonmarWarehouse are thrilled the trans community less thrilled once again we are left out of the telling of a trans story. I was cast to play Pussy’s adopted Mother but had to decline due to a cis man being cast to play her. It’s been a shit few days https://t.co/kdVljZA1yt
— Kate O'Donnell (@kateodonnellx) March 9, 2020
The Donmar responded to criticism, tweeting: “We understand that a number of people are upset and disappointed about the casting decision for Breakfast on Pluto and so the four partners would like to share a statement with some further context.”
In the statement, the Donmar says they “conducted a wide search for the lead” including reaching out “to the Irish transgender community through multiple channels, and auditioned a number of performers who identified as transgender”.
“We have been keen to ensure that trans voices have been central to the development of this new musical.
“A key member of the core creative team is trans, and a leading trans actor, Rebecca Root, has been production consultant since last year; her brief includes advising on script as well as the casting process.
“A young trans theatre-maker has been offered a placement as assistant director, and we have commissioned Lloyd (Meadhbh) Houston to curate a wraparound programme for the performances in Galway and in Dublin.”
But the statement did not appease trans people, who continued to point out that no cis men should have been auditioned for the lead role of a trans woman in the first place, let alone cast.
“Completely missing the point,” said Harrison Knights, a trans actor, singer and musician.
“STOP perpetuating the idea that trans women are men in dresses. If you saw a variety of trans actors why didn’t you cast them? We are talented. Start taking us seriously and help us. You should have NEVER seen any cis men,” he added.
Honestly, more disappointed by this response than the original decision. You can't "we've got loads of trans mates!" your way out of the accountability for what you have been told – by a LARGE number of people – is an offensive and harmful piece of casting. Extremely poor show.
— Janet 🧡 Lynn (@Weez) March 10, 2020
Breakfast on Pluto (& sadly MANY other shows) could’ve been a chance to uplift a trans actor in a leading role, and to create a positive example of representation in the midst of the British media’s vile hounding of the trans community. Cast trans people in trans roles.
— Grace Venning (@gracevenning) March 9, 2020
hello @DonmarWarehouse, can you please explain loud & clear why you've cast a cis man as the trans main character in Breakfast On Pluto? it's not good enough to tack on a showcase for trans actors if you're not willing to give trans actors a real tangible opportunity.
— rebecca robinson (@msbecrobinson) March 9, 2020
Travis Alabanza, a leading trans performance artist, summed it up by tweeting: “The most annoying thing re: #breakfastonpluto casting decision is that ofc we would complain, it’s just a wrong decision.
“But now we are in the cycle of only ever seen in this industry when a controversy occurs. This was predictable. You could’ve just done the work to avoid this.”
They added: “If trans ppl can’t even be cast in their own damn stories, then how does that give hope to trans and GNC people wanting to work in industry? Bloop.”