An amateur dramatic society is finally staging its production of Ragtime – after taking two years to find just 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 theatrical group 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 deemed white actors “blacking-up” or “stan-ding the shadows”, 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 10 black roles in time.

They found their leading man and lady from towns 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.

Jonathan Shiner, 61, from the society, 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 10 black performers, who are able to sing and act to a high standard.”

Leading man Alex Clarke, 48, who plays Coalhouse Walker, said: “I have to travel around 30 miles 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.”

The Regent Centre in Christchurch will host five performances of the musical, with tickets at £14.50.

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