AN AMATEUR theatre group is finally staging its production of Ragtime – after taking two years to find six black actors.

Milton Musical Society decided to produce the musical, which tackles the issue of immigration and racial prejudice in 1902 New York.

But the New Forest theatrical society had no black people among its 80 members.

And the only black person they knew working in New Milton was the pharmacist – who did not sing or act.

The society’s committee refused to let white actors “black up” or “stand in the shadows”, after deeming it inappropriate.

As a result, members went on a “recruitment drive”, which included approaching black people they spotted at work or shopping nearby.

The society had hoped to stage the show last year but were forced to postpone it when they failed to fill the ten black roles in time.

They finally found their leading man and lady from towns around 30 miles away.

The society now has three black men and three black women among the musical cast of 55 – and would ideally like four more men before the show opens on April 17.

Society member Jonathan Shiner, 61, said: “New Milton and the surrounding areas have largely white populations, which is reflected in our membership.

“When we are looking for a white man or a white girl we have 100,000 options and therefore rarely have trouble filling these roles.

“However, with Ragtime, we need around ten black performers who are able to sing and act to a high standard.

“Unfortunately, there are very few black families in our catchment area to begin with. By the time you take out those who are the wrong age or wrong gender and those who cannot sing and act, we lose a further 90 per cent.”

Leading man Alex Clarke, 48, who plays Coalhouse Walker, said: “I have to travel around 30 miles to get to rehearsals, but it is definitely worth it because it is a great play and a role I am very keen to play.

“Everybody at the society has been incredibly friendly and very welcoming.”

Race and diversity consultant Don John, from Southampton, said: “There are not many black people living in this part of the country, so I understand why the society has had some difficulty filling the roles.

“It’s very brave of the society to stand by their principles and not go down the easy route of allowing white actors to black up.”

Rehearsals for the show are now under way.