One of the trickiest subjects exercising the world in general and the performing arts more specifically is the balancing of opportunities for those from disadvantaged groups with professional excellence. Over the last few weeks, this has come to the fore in the theatrical communities on both sides of the Atlantic.

The intention of this column is to draw attention to a pair of controversial articles and send readers to source matter rather than give too many opinions, which would be guaranteed to offend given the entrenched views of those on both sides of the debate.

In a perfect world, all casting would be based on picking the best performers for each role. However, we immediately come across a problem since the best performers may not necessarily have the same characteristics as their characters. This could for example be an issue of gender, race, physical dimensions, accent, sexual preference or ability / disability.

In Shakespearean times, women were not permitted to act, meaning that boys took female parts. More recently, it was traditional for Othello to be played by white actors disguised by make-up.

At the same time, there has been a relative paucity of good roles for women while, in the main theatre centres of the Western world, the situation was far worse for members of ethnic minorities. Not only were there fewer parts but, to a degree as a consequence, a limited number of actors to take them.

Nowadays, we are more enlightened. The question that has been thrown out into the community twice over is whether that can go too far.

There is an argument that if a director chooses the very best actors, either on the basis of their performing skills or marketability, that may mean too few opportunities for those from disadvantaged sectors of society. As a corollary, if the same director insists that 50% of his or her company should be from a designated grouping, that might mean that the production is suboptimal.

This is the topic addressed last month by Pamela Paul in the New York Times. For those that do not have a subscription, a direct link may not be easily accessible but, helpfully, the article has been republished elsewhere.

This led to a series of responses. One from Carol Tambor, whose name should be familiar to many readers as the sponsor of a major Edinburgh award, described Ms Paul’s piece as “a breath of fresh air in this politically correct, yet toxic, environment”.

While this might have been a one-off American debate, the stakes were elevated on this side of the Atlantic when Sunday Times theatre critic Quentin Letts found himself less than impressed by the new production of Legally Blonde at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. He described it as “a relentlessly zingy assertion of minority pride,” a phrase that was probably not intended as a compliment.

His response outraged the director and others involved in the production, not merely because his evaluation clearly diverged from their own but more specifically due to the proposition that many of the issues were down to a policy to choose diverse casting, which in his eyes backfired due to the minority performers not being up to the job.

Unsurprisingly, that was pretty explosive to the extent that, if reports in the media are correct, it appears that the Sunday Times might need to find a new critic to view the remainder of the season at the Open Air Theatre.

In an attempt to break down the controversy, it might be useful to unpack his response. Letts was not on his own, since the production received a mixture of positive and less enthusiastic reviews.

The issue is whether a) Legally Blonde is a pretty weak musical to start with (it bombed in the bad sense on Broadway) b) the concept and direction were lacking c) the problem was the casting d) the minority actors were not up to the job.

There has to be at least a possibility that Quentin Letts is correct, if far from diplomatic. However, playing the non-binary card is always a mistake, since even if his views were valid on this occasion, I doubt that even Letts would want to suggest that no minority actors could have excelled in the respective roles.

Quentin Letts is hardly a stranger to controversy, spending his days working as a parliamentary sketch writer and evenings reviewing at the theatre. After a decade or so in the latter role, he has often demonstrated good judgement, although this is sometimes coloured by a mischievous desire to combine the two jobs by making statements that can come across as aggressively political in the midst of theatre reviews.

Ironically, having been so strident in his comments about bad choices in the park, he seems reluctant to make equivalent judgements about what many might see as equally inappropriate casting on the political stage.