Wed 21 May, 2003 08:29 am
Last year, the Globe Theatre in London presented an all-male production of Twelfth Night. That's in keeping with the way the play would have been presented in Shakespeare's time. This year, there will be four single-gender productions. All-male casts will be seen in Richard II and Marlowe's Edward II. All-female casts will be seen in Richard III and The Taming of the Shrew.
I think this is great! Think what all those phenomenal actresses could do with the great Shakespeare roles. As the artistic director of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre says in the linked article, "we will be helping to realise the enormous potential of actresses who face diminishing opportunities as their expertise and life experience grows to maturity."
What do you think? Would you go see an all-female cast do Shakespeare?
Link to Guardian article
Link to Globe Theatre website
I have mixed feelings about this. I think it's exciting that actresses like Fiona Shaw and Janet McTeer are getting a chance to play some of the great Shakespearean roles, like Richard III. After all, Sarah Bernhardt famously played Hamlet (thus giving Tom Stoppard the chance to describe her as "the greatest one-legged female Hamlet of the age"). But casting an entire play with either an all-male or all-female cast seems more like a stunt to me, than something that actually serves the play. (I know that Shakespeare's plays were originally performed with all-male casts, but that was done out of necessity, not as a choice.)
But who knows -- maybe in ten or twenty years, this kind of casting will seem as unremarkable as casting an actor of one race to play a character of another race now seems to most people. One of the plays I'm planning to see when I'm in London next month is a new production of Henry V at the National Theatre, with Adrian Lester (the young black actor who played the campaign worker/narrator in Primary Colors, and who was also in Branagh's film version of Love's Labour's Lost) in the title role. None of the reviews I've read so far have commented on the fact that Henry V is played by a black actor: they've all focused instead on the fact that it's a modern-dress production that one critic described as "a definitive post-Iraq interpretation of Henry V".
I hadn't planned to attend a performance at the Globe while I'm in London, but now I'm intrigued. I'll have to look at the Globe's website to see what's playing on the one night that I don't have anything else planned for (as usual, I've overscheduled my vacation!).
I saw a brilliant, all-male production of "As You like It" - and it was fascinating in that it allowed a huge amount of the humour to slip fully into focus, as it were - as well as being interesting from an acting and historical perspective.
It was also great for the guys to play those roles.
I think such productions probably have a limited use-by date - but it will be wonderful for the men and women to get to play each other's roles.
So much of his stuff has women dressing as men anyway - for obvious reasons - that there is a lot of gender role badinage in most of the comedies - it will open up the humour and irony a lot - I would love to see them!
Imagine the ironic tone that having a woman play roles such as the porter in Macbeth will give to the sexual stuff he comes out with!
Effen them gals is the only ones in the play, how can they be said to "mount" anything . . . just wonderin' . . .
Grrrrrrooooooooaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnn - AND, where YOU been, if'n you don't know better than that!
Damn! Setanta got to the joke before I..... and did it better'n I coulda.
Hmmm. 'Twill have to be rechristened "The Globes," methinks.
No problem with it at all. I mean, it solves one problem right off the bat: there are fewer roles for women, and a larger number of actresses vying for them.
But really, the proof in any production is how it comes off, and intentions well-played are intentions well played. I've seen some supposedly "faithful" interpretations that were horribly ill-advised, and some far-out ones that were wonderful. Certainly Deb hits the nail on the head when she points out how much of Shakespeare's humor was probably tailored to drag. All those instances of triple and even quadruple drag popping out at you when you realize that it would originally have been a boy (not a man for the ingenues, but a boy) playing a young woman playing a young man?
Ooooh, naughty they were. 'Twas not for nothing that those religious poo-bahs in England shut down the theaters but tolerated bear-baiting...
Since I taught dramatics in an all girls prep school, I produced Shakespeare with all girl casts.
The kids learned a lot about the differences between masculine and feminine points of view.