Disability rights have taken a step backwards in England according to actress Kiruna Stamell.
The 35-year-old who has dwarfism is starring in a ground-breaking tour of The Government Inspector which runs at Theatre Royal Stratford East until May 28.
It is the first in a series of productions by Ramps On The Moon which is a consortium of seven theatre companies formed to address the under representation and employment of disabled people in the theatre.
“Politically the support for disabled people has really been culled,” said Kiruna.
“Everything across the board for disabled people has begun to feel like a debate or fight or essay to try and achieve just basic equality and that is very sad.
“Austerity seems to create a very uneven playing field and the one thing you should never do is remove social mobility, it’s a travesty to do that.”
The comedy of errors, written by Nikolai Gogol in 1836 and adapted by David Harrower, is set in a small Russian town where bureaucrats are sent into a panicked frenzy of cover-ups at the news an inspection.
The cast includes several disabled actors and all performances will contain a use of Audio Description, Captioning and British Sign Language.
But Kiruna says while they are championing equality on stage, behind the curtain the actors are fighting their own battle against bureaucracy.
“I have seen things that shouldn’t be a battle becoming one.
“Like additional support being given for transport if you need it so the firm isn’t penalised for hiring a disabled person.
“The people we’re doing battle with are no longer experts, they aren’t trained to see the challenges, they are trained to assume everyone faking it and on the take – which is terrible and just not true.
“So you have a load of talented disabled people who are really struggling to do what they do brilliantly, which would also make social change through positive representation of disability in a public space.
“On that level we have definitely taken a big step backwards in England.”
It is not the first time the Australian-born actress has taken on the system. She hit the headlines in 2014 when she sued the Post Office for discrimination because she could not reach the chip-and-pin machines.
“It wasn’t just because I couldn’t reach machines,” said Kiruna. “A blind person would really benefit from having unbolted machines that you can place directly in their hands.”
Kiruna was just a few months old when her parents, who are of average height, noticed she wasn’t growing at the expected rate.
Kiruna, who is just under a metre tall, said they were worried her dreams of acting would force her to become a cliché but she was determined to forge her own path.
“I have grown up with people making judgments about me when I walk down the street and for me recontexualising this body in stories that don’t focus on my appearance but just me as a human over and over again is my way of putting the middle finger up at those people and saying I could be a princess or a pauper or your daughter or wife. That is just the lottery of genetics.
“I love acting because it lets me be so many different things.”
She moved to Britain when she was 23 to study Shakespearean and Jacobean drama at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and now lives in Birmingham with husband Gareth Berliner, also an actor.
He big break was working with “lovely” Baz Luhrmann and Ewan McGregor in the “phenomenally fantastical” Moulin Rogue , with the role of La Petite Princess created especially for her. She has also starred on the small screen with “very clever” Warwick Davis in Life’s Too Short , as Sandra in EastEnders and in BBC drama All The Small Things.
In The Government Inspector she plays the mayor’s wife who she describes as “over-sexed” and “a woman who greases the wheels”.
“I’m loving playing Anna because she is such a rich character. Often disabled actors are underestimated but this job for me is dream because its something I can really sink my teeth into.”
Until May 28, 7.30pm (3pm mats), £8-£25.