Forbes Masson as Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew. Photo Simon Annand
There has been media discussion lately about cross gender casting, mainly because high profile actresses talked about their desire to play male roles. This is surprising to me. The fact this kind of statement generates headlines that is, not the desire itself. Why would you be an actor and not want to play everything? And equally, why is suspension of disbelief perceived as problematic when it involves gender?
So I decided to think through some of the joys and challenges of cross gender casting. I did almost no research, so feel free to dispute any of my statements and I am sure everyone’s examples will be richer than mine.
1) Some of the discussion is tied with gender inequality and the small number of female roles in classical theatre. While this is true (and inequality isn’t always addressed in modern theatre either), is that poor justification for what is an artistic decision? Truth is, cross gender casting is far more exciting than that and can jolt the imagination in interesting directions, including – but not limited to – plays where gender politics have a central role. The recent The Taming of the Shrew at the Royal Shakespeare Company – with men playing women and women playing men – and The Shed’s Blurred Lines – with its all female cast playing all roles – are good examples. Continue reading
Hattie Morahan and Pip Carter in The Dark Earth and the Light Sky. Photo Alastair Muir
Awards, especially the announcement of the nominees, follow a familiar pattern: anticipation and excitement followed by incredulity. It’s a well known fact that, despite being irresistible and so much fun, awards always get it wrong. Having said that, this year’s Olivier nominations got almost everything right: there is little I would object to, at least not with any conviction. Tomorrow’s award ceremony would be unique in that respect, I can route for almost everybody.
But inevitably, with the quality of London theatre, many productions missed out. Following the rule of the Kermodes (no one nominated for an Olivier is eligible), here are my awards for the past theatrical year. With an additional category or two. Because they are my awards and I can do what I like.
Best Actor: Pip Carter is an actor of minimalistic explosiveness, often doing very little and usually stealing every scene he is in. Taking the lead in Nick Dear’s The Dark Earth and The Light Sky, he brought poet Ed Thomas to life in a performance of reticent vivid pulsating desperation. He made it look easy, too easy in fact, hence the absence of award recognition. Runner Up: I had to think long and hard about this one and John Heffernan missed by a whisker: three plays (She Stoops to Conquer, Love and Information and The Physicists), an impressive range and a light touch that brings depth and humanity to all his roles mark him out as an exceptional talent. Edward II at the National next. After that, the sky is the limit. Continue reading
Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins in Constellations. Photo Simon Annand
I am not good with deadlines. Not so much that I miss them but I like pushing the boundaries, doing things last minute. So blogging about my top ten theatre productions for the first half of the year some time in September is entirely in character. And everyone knows the year truly starts in September, right? (That’s my excuse anyway).
Before we move onto the actual list, a little teaser: There are four play starting with C and four plays revolving around exact sciences. It’s fair to say any play starting with C and about exact science is likely to be a huge hit with me. There are two productions from the Sheffield Crucible (more often than not, plays I see in Sheffield end up on my top ten list, Daniel Evans has done a great job), two adaptations by Simon Stephens (as well as being a great writer, he has been everywhere this year), and two plays starring John Heffernan.
In strictly alphabetical order, my top ten theatre productions for the first half of the year: Continue reading
Tony Bell (Mistress Quickly), Vince Leigh (Pistol) & company. Photo Manuel Harlan
Comedy of Errors and Richard III first introduced me to Edward Hall’s Propeller company last year, but it doesn’t take much to realise this theatre group is something special: a team of people (and they are very much a team) playing Shakespeare with all the simplicity, fearlessness and enjoyment that Shakespeare deserves. Their approach doesn’t seem that complicated: they will do anything to make the plays fly. Nothing is out of bounds: songs (any songs), pop culture references, gags, slapstick, gore (of course) and cross dressing (it’s an all male company) are the norm. The more limited their means, the more imaginative the use of the smallest prop or sound. On the other hand, this is not a “throw it to the wall and see what sticks” approach. The end results are so crisp and fluent that easily betray the discipline by which the plays are approached. Continue reading