Yael Stone's allegations about Geoffrey Rush divide the arts industry

Some praise Orange Is the New Black star’s integrity and courage while others express sadness and support for Rush

New allegations made by the Orange Is the New Black actor Yael Stone about inappropriate behaviour by Geoffrey Rush have divided the arts industry, with some praising her integrity and courage, and others expressing sadness and support for Rush.

The acclaimed Australian theatre director John Bell said that the “kind of behaviour we’re hearing about has never been accepted or acceptable”.

The founder of Bell Shakespeare theatre company told ABC News on Tuesday: “Maybe excused, or brushed over, or for various reasons not aired, but I don’t think the bulk of people in the industry would ever find that acceptable.”

On Monday, in a New York Times article and appearance on ABC’s 7.30, Stone alleged that during a 2010 production of Diary of A Madman, Rush held a mirror above her while she showered, danced naked in front of her, touched her back in an “unwanted” and “very sensual manner”, and invited her back to his apartment in a “very physically intimate way”.

In a statement issued through his lawyers on Monday, Rush said Stone’s allegations were “incorrect and in some instances have been taken completely out of context”.

“However, clearly Yael has been upset on occasion by the spirited enthusiasm I generally bring to my work,” he said. “I sincerely and deeply regret if I have caused her any distress. This, most certainly, has never been my intention.”

The allegations come in the wake of a highly publicised lawsuit by Rush against the Daily Telegraph over a series of 2017 articles which alleged he had behaved inappropriately towards another young female castmate during a 2015 production of Shakespeare’s King Lear, allegations which Rush also denies.

The allegations have polarised the performing arts industry.

The former Neighbours actor Cliff Ellen dismissed Stone’s allegations against Rush, writing a letter to the editor in Wednesday’s the Age saying: “No offence to the ladies but, in my experience, they are dreaming.”

Ellen, who played Charlie Cassidy on Neighbours between 1996 and 2005 and recently appeared in Romper Stomper, wrote that while he hasn’t worked with Rush, he believes the women alleging inappropriate behaviour were likely “confronted” by Rush’s star-power and didn’t realise he was in character at the time.

“I am not saying that what they said about Geoffrey Rush was false (as they saw it),” he wrote. “But maybe they mistook his character in the play for Geoffrey himself.”

He continued: “Geoffrey is a rare bird with an elevated sense of flying towards perfection. We all love it from him. We are (almost) all in harmony with the unfair sadness of his situation.”

The letter was accompanied with a cartoon by Michael Leunig, of a group of hypnotised people in a desert, salivating as they walk zombie-light towards a sun in the sky with the words “sex scandal” emblazoned upon it.

The director Ariette Taylor, also in correspondence to the Age, called Leigh Sales’ interview with Stone “so terribly wrong”, saying that it was “ridiculous” that Stone should feel that speaking out about Rush would “ruin her career”, and that Stone could have stopped Rush’s “silly behaviour” whenever she wanted.

“Stone only had to rebuke Rush,” Taylor said. “If it had not stopped, she only needed to tell her director, the stage manager or her agent. She was not rejecting the actor Geoffrey Rush, she was merely rejecting his silly behaviour. That kind of silliness goes on behind the scenes, and that is where it should stay, not dragged onto an important national news program.”

Some called for the industry to embrace the incentive to change its practices. Brenna Hobson, who was Belvoir executive director at the time of the production of The Diary of a Madman, told the ABC: “We have a real opportunity right now. Most of us have either ignored it or turned a blind eye. To a certain degree we’re all culpable and have to do better.”

Representatives for the actors Robyn Nevin and Judy Davis, who both gave evidence for Rush during his defamation suit, declined to comment when approached by Guardian Australia.

In his letter to the editor, Ellen also defended Neil Armfield, who he has worked with and who directed both productions; Armfield didn’t provide comment to the ABC, but told the New York Times that in 2011 he had been “aware that Yael had felt some discomfort in sharing the dressing room with Geoffrey”. Guardian Australia has approached Armfield for comment.

Other members of the theatre community have roundly praised Stone’s interview for its rawness, nuance and thoughtfulness. Her fellow actor on Orange Is the New Black, Natasha Lyonne, said on Twitter: “I know no person of greater integrity than Yael Stone. As deeply compassionate and trustworthy as anyone could ever aspire to be.”

I know no person of greater integrity than @YaelStone. As deeply compassionate and trustworthy as anyone could ever aspire to be. ♥️ https://t.co/Zi9BnBaGJB

— natasha lyonne (@nlyonne) December 17, 2018

The actor and playwright Nakkiah Lui said on Twitter that Stone had “provided leadership and compassion during a time when so many have been made to feel scared to voice their right to be treated fairly and to feel safe”.

Thank you @YaelStone for speaking with such thought, honesty and courage. You have provided leadership and compassion during a time when so many have been made to feel scared to voice their right to be treated fairly and to feel safe #abc730

— Nakkiah Lui (@nakkiahlui) December 17, 2018

Another letter to the editor published this morning praised Stone as a woman who has “emphatically reclaimed her power by telling the truth of her own story”.

Actress Yael Stone's interview with @leighsales on @abc730 is a must watch - and not for the so-called "explosive revelations" but for the articulate and compelling way in which she outlined the hazards of negotiating unwanted advances from powerful men knowing who will suffer.

— Kate McClymont (@Kate_McClymont) December 17, 2018

This is one of the most nuanced and articulate explanations of workplace sexual politics I've heard. Amazing interview. @YaelStone @abc730

— Annabel Crabb (@annabelcrabb) December 17, 2018


Stephanie Convery and Steph Harmon

The GuardianTramp

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