Award-winning Iron Lady director says EU 'should force Royal Shakespeare Company to cast women as men'
11:26 GMT, 7 December 2012
In Shakespeare's day a woman who dared to set foot on the stage would have been arrested.
But now a leading female director has insisted that theatre companies should be forced to to cast equal numbers of male and female actors, even if that would mean women playing traditional male roles.
Phyllida Lloyd, who directed the controversial Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady and the film Mamma Mia!, said that the lack of female roles in Shakespeare's plays should not stop the Royal Shakespeare Company employing the same number of women as men.
Head to head: Director Phyllida Lloyd wants legislation that would force the RSC to cast equal numbers of male and female actors in plays – such as William Shakespeare's – that traditionally have a male-heavy cast
Miss Lloyd, who is currently staging an all-female production of Shakespeare's Julius Ceasar set in a prison, advocated 'gender-blind casting' which would allow women to play male roles.
The award-winning director suggested that European legislation might soon 'shame the theatre' into offering both sexes the same opportunities.
The problem exists because Shakespeare – along with many playwrights – wrote far more male characters into his plays than female ones.
Miss Lloyd told Radio 4's Today programme on Thursday: 'For every job given to a girl in the London theatre, three jobs go to a boy, and I just felt the time had come to make some reparation.'
She said she'd had enough of women being shunted aside or 'somewhere back home putting the kettle on' rather than being seen on stage 'crying liberty, freedom and enfranchisement.'
Of course, gender-bending in
Shakespeare plays is hardly revolutionary. Cross-dressing was both a
well-used plot device and a necessity in the Bard's day, as all roles were played by men. Women were not allowed to
perform on stage.
The ban on female actors existed
until Charles II changed the law in the 17th century, which meant that
in plays such as Twelfth Night audiences were treated to the spectacle
of a man playing a woman who had disguised herself as a man.
Gender issues: Hollywood movie Shakespeare in Love illustrated the problems of women being banned from the stage in the Elizabethan era. It portrayed Gwyneth Paltrow as a lady pretending to be a man so that she could play Shakespeare's Romeo
More recently, the comic potential of Elizabethan cross-dressing has been revived in films like Hollywood's Shakespeare in Love. It portrays Gwyneth Paltrow pretending to be a man so that she can play Shakespeare's Romeo – but her character
ends up playing an uncannily convincing Juliet.
And in modern times gender-blind casting has not been unusual since 1995, when actress Fiona Shaw played Richard II in Deborah Warner's production at the National Theatre.
But Miss Lloyd suggested that this sort of casting should be a requirement rather than an option.
She continued: 'Probably the European Union will legislate soon and … I would imagine, somebody’s going to be shaming the theatre.
'They should be just told that they have to have a 50/50 employment spread, then work out how to do the plays.
'If that means some gender-blind casting, some all-female, some all-male, it’s not rocket science, and I think they could have some fun.'
Gregory Doran, the RSC’s artistic director, told the Daily Telegraph that casting actors in different gender roles was nothing new for the company.
He said: 'This is something we’ve been doing in Stratford for years and these initiatives are now being taken up and expanded by others.
'We have future plans to further explore the issues surrounding women in theatre, and a company with a 50/50 split of male and female actors is one that I’ve already challenged Phyllida to come and run in Stratford-upon-Avon.'