Eddie Marsan, a class act speaking up for talent from all quarters | Rebecca Nicholson

Without special funding, acting will only be open to the wealthy and privileged

As an actor, Eddie Marsan often serves as a kind of “Tesco Finest” or “Taste the Difference” label for films and TV series. You know that if he’s in it, it’s likely to be decent, likely to be worth the extra 99p.

He was unforgettable as a grieving father in Southcliffe, the strange and beautiful Channel 4 drama about a mass shooting that seems unjustly forgotten. He was brilliant in Happy-Go-Lucky, keeping up with Sally Hawkins, which must be no easy task. Last week, Marsan added his voice to the low but steady rumble of other working-class actors, including Idris Elba and Julie Walters, who have been trying to draw attention to the fact that young people who aren’t from wealthy or privileged backgrounds are still struggling to break through.

Marsan added his experiences to statements by new Equity president, Maureen Beattie, who warned that a lack of funding and compulsory arts education was turning acting into an elite profession, the preserve of the middle classes and beyond. Marsan says that there are fewer working-class actors, but also fewer working-class casting agents, writers, directors, which can only mean that the stories we’re being told are coming from an increasingly slim pool of experience.

Acting is acting, of course. Good actors play characters and it shouldn’t matter where they come from. But the problem is that it does, because while opportunities should be the same for everyone, they simply aren’t. There is no meritocracy if only rich people can afford to go to drama school; the playing field is so uneven that it’s practically a slope. Working-class actors can play working-class characters, but they have to fight much harder to prove they can slide up the social hierarchy than middle-class actors do when they’re playing at moving down it.

A few weeks ago, Olivia Cooke, who is about to be the new Becky Sharp in ITV’s adaptation of Vanity Fair, said she felt discriminated against in the UK because of her northern accent and that in America this was less important. The idea that northerners can’t be posh is for another column entirely, but hers is another voice warning of a growing homogeneity. That sameness sounds like a death of creativity.

Every time someone such as Marsan speaks up, it’s a reminder of how much representation matters, not because we need actors to be the person they’re playing on screen, but because we need all sorts of people, telling all sorts of stories, as much and as often as possible.

From material girl to exultant birthday girl

The Queen of Pop is 60. Photograph: Amy Sussman/WWD/REX/Shutterstock

Many were excited to celebrate Madonna’s 60th birthday, but Madonna seemed to be the most excited of all. She’d been counting down on Instagram for days, announcing, amid a series of posts about cake, that she was “Getting Ready For My Spankings!” On the big day, my favourite post was of her looking regal in a magenta dress, with the emoji-strewn caption, “Finally and at last its [sic] my birthday! I have survived! Life Is Beautiful!”

When Madonna joined Instagram in 2013, I worried it would be like hearing Kate Moss after years of glacial silence, that any mystique would be punctured by over-exposure, by unnecessary insight into what makes a star. Instead, her rapid flow of posts conveyed the unapologetic, seen-it-all shrug of freedom that makes this current Madonna era so worth every fabulously entertaining second.

On her birthday, my Facebook feed turned into a scrapbook of Madge memories. People talked about why they loved her and shared photographs, clips and memes, even a screengrab of that time Cher replied to how she had celebrated Madonna’s birthday with: “I got a colonic.”.

Everyone had a Madonna first time; mine was asking my mum if I could buy a magazine because she was on the cover. My mum flicked through it, only to find her in a photo Instagram would remove. She put it back on the shelf. Madonna’s birthday seemed to unite social media, which I see as her gift to us, along with a photo of her with a sign that reads, “the Queen” (“in case someone forgot!”). Happy birthday, Madonna. Life Is Beautiful!

Not even Trump can part them

Kellyanne and George Conway
Kellyanne and George Conway: ‘Incredibly, they’re still married.’ Photograph: Matt Rourke/AP

You can choose your friends, as the old saying goes, but you can’t choose the fact that your wife is forever and inextricably tied to the Donald Trump administration when you really loathe Trump. Last week, the Washington Post published an astonishing profile of alternative facts pioneer Kellyanne Conway and her husband George, who so despises the president that he regularly tweets his public criticisms, much to his wife’s dismay.

They disagree on so much that it makes Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? look like a manual given out by Relate. She decides he’s upset because she thinks he feels she chose Trump over him. She finds his tweeting “disrespectful”. He regrets introducing her to Trump, whom he calls “that man”. She says he likes being the “agitator”. He has changed his political affiliation from “Republican” to “unaffiliated”. And yet, incredibly, they’re still married. They have four children. He even admits that he holds back in his tweets, adding: “I think the reason why is obvious.” By showing that their relationship can endure in even the most seemingly impossible cases of division, it offers everyone hope – a first, perhaps, for Kellyanne Conway.

• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist


Rebecca Nicholson

The GuardianTramp

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