Nick Ahad: Why more needs to be done to truly represent society on the stage

Lily James as Desdemona and Clarke Peters as Othello with Dominic West as Iago at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre. Credit: Johan Persson
Lily James as Desdemona and Clarke Peters as Othello with Dominic West as Iago at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre. Credit: Johan Persson
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You may or may not be aware that I wrote an article for the Guardian last week that resulted in a bit of controversy and plenty of internet abuse.

The headline, which is often the most contentious part of any article and the part into which the writer of the article generally has zero input, was: “Race is Still a Touchy Subject at the Edinburgh Fringe”.

The piece was inspired by an incident at a show I saw at the Edinburgh Fringe. I’m not going to go into The Incident again, mainly because my take on it was the source of a fair amount of the internet abuse I received.

Also, The Incident is actually kind of irrelevant. It was really a catalyst for me to point out that there is one hell of a long way to go before true representation of our society hits the stages of our theatres, whether that is in the arena of dance, drama or indeed comedy, which was the artform I was enjoying in this particular case.

Since my article was published I’ve been pilloried for daring to raise the issue of race in the world of comedy. I have been told I have something called ‘brown privilege’ which I would love to have explained to me (seriously, what is that? Am I supposed to be getting extra naan with my takeaway curry? Because if so, I’ve been missing out).

There were, however, some points worth addressing in the online conversation that followed.

It’s been suggested that I am an over-sensitive ‘snowflake’ for feeling isolated by the colour of my skin while at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Well, as the beyond reproach Lyn Gardner wrote in The Stage: “I notice in Edinburgh it’s a predominantly white audience, because that is still the make-up of both artists and audiences on the Fringe.”

As Shappi Khorsandi wrote in The Independent, explaining why she wasn’t going to Edinburgh this year: “For too long the same bunch have prowled around the festival dictating what we should and shouldn’t talk about in order to meet their approval. If you’re working class or BAME, then you’d better be their kind of working class or BAME. We need a coup.”

With my article, I stuck my head above the parapet and got shot at. I’m white working class, half-Asian, short, and growing up I was a poor boy at a private school: I’ve got the hide of a rhino. The internet warriors can’t harm me.

I’m glad that I wrote what I wrote and if I can add to a conversation along with Gardner, Khorsandi and the rest, then great. If it takes some of us risking potshots to improve the lot for those in the future, then I’ll happily put that target on my back.

Oh, and to the people (unaware of my other work, I guess) wondering how I got an article in the Guardian just months into my stand-up career – this isn’t my first rodeo.