According to British director Phyllida Lloyd, the Royal Shakespeare Company owes female actors some “reparation” for its shockingly sexist practice of casting male actors in male parts. Theater companies “should be just told that they have to have a 50/50 employment spread, then work out how to do the plays,” Lloyd said last week, in an interview with BBC Radio 4. “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, seemed open to the idea. “We have future plans to further explore the issues surrounding women in theatre,” he told the Telegraph. “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.”
For the sake of their audiences, we hope they are just engaging in some idle speculation. It’s one thing for a director to make a choice to have a woman play Richard in Richard II in order to emphasize certain aspects of Richard’s character—or to cast a woman as Falstaff because the right woman is there to fill the role. But to arbitrarily impose “gender blindness” on a company for nontheatrical reasons seems painfully myopic.
Lloyd is currently mounting an all-female production of Julius Caesar in London, and it’s receiving decent reviews. She is obviously welcome to cast her productions however she wants. Indeed, Shakespeare himself was a “gender-blind” caster—at a time when all the parts were played by men. Shakespeare himself never expressed an opinion about this, but his Cleopatra chose to take her chances with the snake rather than live to see “some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness.”
That directors should seek out actors with an eye towards making the play as good as possible, rather than to advance a social agenda, seems rather too obvious a point to press. However, The Scrapbook will hazard a radical thought: If you’re directing a Shakespeare production, you ought to be primarily interested in the play, not in the codpieces of the actors.