Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Everything But The Girls

When the RSC announced their 2013 summer season yesterday, we all rejoiced. "LOOK AT ALL THOSE FEMALE DIRECTORS!" we cried as we danced around in the rain. We've all been waiting for some good news in theatre since MoylesGate and, for us ladyfolk at least, it seemed that this news was surely it. FIVE whole lady directors in one little season. Why, that news is almost unheard of. Add to this a new play by Tanika Gupta about Queen Victoria and it finally seemed like Viva Forever wouldn't be the only source of Girl Power in theatre. The whole thing caused Boyd to proudly announce:

"Next year has ended up, by accident, as a celebration of women in theatre...It has not been a conscious piece of positive action … but it is great that we are doing something about it with a concentration and intensity that is new for the RSC."

Well done, Mr Boyd, you can feel pride in your RSC swansong. You can feel wonderfully smug as ladies across the land sing your name in ecstasy. Or can you? You see, because I'm a cynical actress who refuses to see the good in things, I instantly started looking for the negatives. And wow, did I find one. Of course, my job is to see what's it it for us actresses and, if you take a quick look at the plays they'll be doing in this 'celebration of women' season, you'll quickly find that there's not party-poppers for us actors with lady bits. They've announced that the plays they'll be producing are All's Well That Ends Well, Hamlet (of course, it's now legal to have Hamlet in every bloody season in every bloody theatre), Titus Andronicus, As You Like It, The Winter's Tale, A Mad World My Masters plus new plays by Tanika Gupta and Mark Ravenhill. Now, obviously I don't know what roles the two new plays will involve but a quick tot up of the ones that do already exist and it seems that these plays contain a triumphant 85 named roles for the boys and a miserable 21 for us girlies. Now, unless the two new plays contain a whopping 64 female roles then it seems this celebration of women in theatre has very quickly become a rather exclusive members-only party. Much like the RSC itself.

I realise that this is something I rant and rave about on an almost weekly basis and I'm sure it's becoming tiresome to read but this is a problem in theatre that just doesn't seem to be changing. I'm bloody thrilled that they've got a whole host of female directors in because the representation of women in theatre is not just limited to those who prat about on stage. But I'm as bored of seeing the same-old, male heavy plays in the theatre as I am of seeing tweets about 50 Shades of Bloody Freaking Grey. And I realise that the RSC are a bit limited by Shakespeare's writing but they've shown they're capable of putting on new plays too so why not focus on that to ensure that women are being fairly respresented? Even when they do produce new writing, they've shown they're not to be trusted with female roles. Just take a look at the cast list for their new play A Soldier For Every Son - The Rise Of The Aztecs - Yep, that's 15 male roles and a paltry 3 female roles. Excellent work, RSC. Well frikkin' played.

Who knows, they've only announced the casting of Hamlet so far so maybe they'll be getting in lots of ladies to play the male parts. Maybe they'll surprise me so much that I'm forced to eat all the hats. Or maybe, just maybe, 2013 will just be another year where the men reign supreme and the women take their kit off.


  1. Haha. Your posts are like a freaky stream of my own thoughts. I still really want to put on a Shakespeare with women playing all the male roles and men playing all the female roles, but not for laughs like so often is done - take it completely seriously.

    I had an actor "friend" who always complained about gender blind casting, saying that it would only be women taking male roles. I just didn't even know where to start with him. When I made my suggestion of switching them all equally he just scoffed and made some rather insulting comments about actresses which I will NOT repeat here. Needless to say I avoid him like the plague now.

    I have also contemplated adapting some Shakespeare play (or other out-of-copyright play with a decent universal story) to investigate how it works with a female character instead of a male rather than an actress pretending to be man, if you know what I mean.

  2. I couldn't agree more. Would be great to see this kind of casting that yes, isn't played for laughs. I think it would be very interesting to see some plays where the roles are reversed (and not just done for the sake of gender equality) as I'm sure it'd bring up different themes within the play that may have not previously been spotted.

  3. I recently was in a production of Julius Caesar where the cast was roughly a 50/50 split. Caesar, Cassius, Decius, Octavius were all women and Calpurnica was a guy. All parts were played true to the gender of the actor so no guys pretending to be women and vice versa. It worked really well and as you've said it did bring up a hell of a lot of different issues. I have no problem with cross gender castings as long as it works. Equally another play I've done recently there was a worshop casting for it and certain roles were open to both genders.

    Having said all that, there is another major issue here. A director I know complained that when she puts out a breakdown she'll receive maybe 5-10 applications per male role and around 100 per female role. All of the guys will be really good and it comes down to particular direction she wants to take with the role. In contrast, a lot of the women she sees are apparently appaling, don't look like their headshots at all and are totally inappropriate for the part.

    Theatre is massively imbalanced at the moment. Part of this is due to the huge amount of shakespeare etc on the fringe which are totally skewed towards guys. Gender switches only work some of the time and really shouldn't be done just for the sake of it. These productions are far more damaging to getting more actresses on stage than them not happening. People remember that certain switches didn't work and are then unwilling to try other ones.

    Not really sure where I'm going with this - it's more of a stream of conciousness - so I'm going to leave that there!

    ps Love the blog. Highlights the ridiculousness of our prefession perfectly.

  4. I don't know if you caught the recent documentary on The Tempest but part of it explores Helen Mirren's portrayal of Prospero (under a female director if memory serve me well) and it showed that a female in the role brought a new side/dynamic to the role.

    Of course Shakespeare used mainly male characters, he only had male actors in a patriarchal society. Times have changed and the theatre needs to reflect that, stop trying to slavishly recreate the original and try something different to connect with a new audience. If the bard write today he'd surely create some great female roles. Why can't we mess around with the gender of Shakespeare's characters? He's not a freakin deity!

  5. Sounds weird but I want there to be a MacBeth with the gender's reversed. Lady Macbeth, the 3 Witches and Lady Macduff as men, everyone else as women. I think it just might work...

  6. They did it this year at the John Lyon theatre in city lit, the 3 witches were male and all others were female. It was set in Haiti. There is too much to review, too many levels, good and bad (not sure Macbeth her self pulled it off against Lady M) but overall I think it was a startling production, for the better. Robyn Moore's Macduff was the first to bring a drop to the eyeball. I'd see some more of that.