Storme Toolis to be first disabled star to take on title role in A Day in the Death of Joe Egg

Myles Wright
Myles Wright

An actress with cerebral palsy is the first disabled actress to take on the title role in the West End version of stage classic A Day in the Death of Joe Egg.

Storme Toolis, 26, says she is “privileged” to be making history by playing the severely disabled child in Peter Nichols’ play which was inspired by his own experiences bringing up a disabled daughter.

She admitted she had worries about taking on the role of Josephine — nicknamed Joe Egg — who also has cerebral palsy, but put aside her fears of being typecast to make her West End debut in the show which opens at Trafalgar Studios on Saturday with Toby Stephens and Claire Skinner as her parents.

Toolis said: “I did have worries but I was also very aware of being in a very privileged situation of working with high-quality talent and that the opportunity for me as a performer was astronomical. I certainly have a little insight into the character but my level of disability and Joe’s level of disability are very, very different, but it does give me a level of empathy for the character.”

Director Simon Evans said casting Toolis had benefited everyone involved in the creative process of putting the black comedy on stage. He said: “Putting a more able-bodied actor in the role might have made for a more sentimental performance and Storme is unsentimental about her condition.

“She has, in a way, given people a huge permission to talk this way about a disabled person and in rehearsal Storme will be saying, ‘No, pick me up and throw me around. That is what my dad would do when I was little.’ So for Toby and Claire they are learning how to carry Storme and put her in a position that is comfortable so things like that are hugely beneficial for them.”

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Nichols, who died last week aged 92, debuted the play in Glasgow in 1967 and it was an immediate hit, going to the West End in the same year before transferring to Broadway. It was twice made into a film: in 1970, starring Alan Bates and Janet Suzman, and in 2002 with Eddie Izzard.

Evans said he felt there had been progress in getting more disabled performers on stage and hoped more would take on roles previously played by able-bodied actors. He said: “Now I’m reading plays and wondering, ‘Can I cast a less able-bodied actor?’ And I know they will add something to that role in some way and not make it more difficult.”

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Read more Celebrated British playwright Peter Nichols has died aged 92