Graduate Hopes Hit Musical is Catalyst for Change

By Gemma Cross


A star from a new hit musical is hoping the show could usher in a fresh era for disabled actors.

We caught up with Joseph to discuss how training at the conservatoire prepared him for a professional setting, his involvement in The Little Big Things, plus his hopes for the future of the industry.

As a student, what was your experience like working on Spring Awakening?

It was an intense process and we were treated very similarly to the way we would have been in a professional setting and so it was very good preparation in that way. It was my first performance, let alone full musical, since becoming disabled and so it was a massive learning curve, not only for me but for the creative team as well. Simon Hardwick (our director/choreographer), Christina Fulcher and I discussed different ways to adapt my character and settled on using a wheelchair rather than crutches as it gave us more freedom with regards to choreography and safeguarded me more against the physical strain of the show. It’s rare to see disabled performers in theatre and so there was little to draw inspiration from so I’ll be forever grateful to Simon and Christina for giving me the time and space to explore possibilities (through a large amount of trial and error), and for their suggestions throughout that process.

How was the audition process for The Little Big Things?

I had a relatively short audition process; I sent in a self-tape with a couple of scenes and a song, and then had a meeting with Luke Sheppard (our director) and Nickie Miles-Wildin (our dramaturg/associate director) where I was redirected on those scenes and we discussed the project and the character of Henry. It was a really positive experience, especially as it was established early on that we wouldn’t be attempting to perfectly replicate our real-life counterparts making it a very free and collaborative process.

How have you found the experience of being an offstage cover?

Being an offstage cover was new to me and it’s a fairly unique role in that I only cover the single role of Man Henry (often offstage covers are swings who cover multiple roles) so I’ve been able to focus on that one role from the beginning. Both Man Henry and Agnes (his physiotherapist) are played by wheelchair users and both have an offstage cover who is a wheelchair user which is (as far as I know) unique to this show, but it ensures that whenever the show is performed, it’s done as authentically as possible, and I can only hope that this is something that other productions take note of.

What happens when you get the call that you’re on?

I’m called to the theatre at the same time as the principal cast every day and warm up in case I’m needed which means that on most days I either spend the show in the dressing room, rehearsing the show in parallel in our rehearsal room, or watching the show to keep the energy and rhythm of the rest of the cast in my mind so that I feel in sync with everyone else if I end up going on. Usually I’ll find out a few hours before the show whether I’ll be covering, but sometimes (as happened for my debut performance) someone can fall ill much closer to the time and I will be expected to go on with limited warning. Once I know that I’m on, everything will run as close to normal as possible, even to the point of moving to the relevant dressing room so that the costume and sound teams can do as they normally would and not have to change their routine each time a cover is on.

What has your experience been working as a disabled actor in the industry so far? What hopes do you have for the future?

Since becoming disabled I’ve always felt slightly daunted knowing how scarce disabled performers are, especially within musical theatre (prior to graduation I could have counted all of those that I knew of on one hand) so The Little Big Things has been incredibly eye-opening and reassuring, seeing the disabled talent within the industry, not only amongst performers but within backstage and other creative roles as well.

My biggest hope is that The Little Big Things is a catalyst for a change within casting that not only sees disabled characters portrayed by authentically disabled performers, but sees those same performers given opportunities in non-specific roles because the reality is 90% of roles make no mention of being able-bodied or disabled and all it would take would be a slightly braver outlook from creative teams.

The Little Big Things cast performed ‘The World is Waiting’ at the Royal Variety Performance, and the show’s run has been extended until 2 March 2024 due to popular demand.

Buy tickets for The Little Big Things on the @sohoplace website

Stream The Little Big Things official West End cast recording on all major platforms

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By Gemma Cross

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