After drama school, Hughes didn’t immediately arrange for an agent—unlike many of his colleagues. “Voices in my head went, ‘Are you a risk?’” he said, but those doubts dissipated after he landed a part in a production by Graeae, a British theater company that casts deaf and disabled actors. Before then, Hughes said, he felt his appearance “would hold me back,” but after being surrounded by other disabled actors, he felt empowered. He even started wearing short sleeves to emphasize his limb difference, he added.
The Royal Shakespeare Company’s show is Hughes’ most high-profile casting to date. In May, Doran gave an interview to The Times of London with the headline, “Able-Bodied Actors Can’t Be Richard III.” In a letter of complaint to that newspaper, Doran said the headline was misleading. His point, he wrote, was that while anyone could play the part, a disabled actor “could improve the production’s performance and impact.”
Richard III is often portrayed as an almost comical villain, Hughes said, often with a fake “hump and floppy.” While he didn’t try to hide the character’s villainy, he hoped to draw attention to his motivations: “You can see a despot and tyrant,” he said, “but also a little boy who is unloved and one who is shunned.” and disowned and underestimated.”
Mat Fraser, another disabled actor, who played Richard III in a production set in Hull in northern England in 2017, said the king was often played by older performers who could make the king look like a “withered little twig”. But Hughes is young and muscular — better suited to portray a monarch who died on a battlefield at age 32, Fraser said. “We are going to see the most real Richard III there has ever been,” he added.
Hughes said he was already looking beyond his turn as Richard to other Shakespearean roles, and would love to play Hamlet and Iago from “Othello.”
“I would like to play a role that is not specified as disabled,” he said. “Obviously any role I play is turned off by the nature of my role,” he added. “But that’s not the point.”
Until October 8 at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, England; rsc.org.uk.