Writer: Kellan Frankland
Director: Stephen Bailey
Does an actor have the right to play any part? It is a pertinent debate as long overdue discussions take place about diversity in the industry that question whether an actor should adopt any number of forms and personalities or whether physical characteristics, race and sexuality should be more appropriately cast. Kellan Frankland’s short film How Do You Make a Cup of Tea?, showing as part of the Crips Without Constraint series, explores casting as two actors vie for the same role.
Sally and Frankie meet via Zoom to discuss a play they are about to embark on but Sally is distracted by Frankie’s wheelchair and begins to patronise her companion in the name of research. Soon, both women discover that their involvement in the project is not quite what they thought and as Sally becomes increasingly immersed in her ‘process’, a frustrated Frankie decides enough is enough.
Running for 18 minutes, Frankland’s short play is a no holds barred expose of casting double standards and misinformation about disabled performers that debunks plenty of myths while gently mocking the mindless bias that Frankie must endure on a daily basis. The balance of power shifts interestingly between the characters as the initially confident Sally finds herself increasingly out of her depth while clinging to prejudices that cast her adrift.
Filmed in the now familiar side-by-side Zoom boxes, there is only occasional variety in the camerawork when it cuts to one performer, but the film’s accessibility increases with David Young’s audio descriptive voiceover that relays how the characters are feeling as well as their expressions and actions. And How Do You Make a Cup of Tea? streams on YouTube with full subtitles.
Harriet Walter as the prejudiced actor looking for tips is the big draw here, yet Mandy Colleran’s Frankie is the increasingly beleaguered star who not only manages the disappointment of discovering her quite different role in the play, but also Sally’s endless misunderstandings and refusal to listen. Colleran charts the change in Frankie’s levels of tolerance well, as a helpful discussion becomes a more irate deconstruction of Sally’s increasingly unsustainable position.
Walter plays against type a little as the weaker character whose initial awkwardness captures those stilted first exchanges between strangers while making assumptions about Frankie’s capabilities. As she offers up every excuse for taking the role – including how limited roles are generally for women – Walter shows Sally collapse in on herself, gamely covering her face in post-it notes and visibly deflating as each of her arguments is astutely dismantled by Frankie.
The scenario does however run out of steam a little before its end point so some of the discussions become a little repetitive and laboured for an audience who grasp the point pretty quickly. Yet Frankland’s writing is clear on the morality of accepting roles – ‘you weren’t the only one making the decision but that doesn’t mean you’re not responsible,’ Frankland concludes, thanking a list of famous stars for their recent ‘excuses.’ It is clear the debate around accepting inappropriate roles is only just beginning.