The three of us saw an excellent production of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus two weeks ago at the Mercury Theatre (see WeatherGirl’s excellent report), and last night we saw the companion piece, Julius Caesar.
One of the cool things they’ve done is use an all male cast for Coriolanus, and an all female cast for Julius Caesar. Both groups did a great job, and it was wonderful to see how quickly we came to see them as their characters, regardless of their gender. No particular effort was made to act like a man/woman, so no camp voices or crotch scratching. The focus instead was on the text and the characters, and they did a really fine job, showing how a powerful, honest delivery of the text can sell the characters irrespective of the physical bodies they inhabit.
I was also struck by how contemporary the language sounded in Coriolanus. Often Shakespeare can sound very Shakespeare, and you’re constantly reminded that you’re watching something old. Here, however, the (unaltered) text came off as much more contemporary, a tribute again to the quality of the cast and direction.
One might reasonably wonder why they chose to use these mono-gender casts. A decision was made to do Shakespeare’s two roman plays (Colchester is, after all, the ancient roman capital of Britain), while independently a list was being gathered of company members who wanted to participate in this fall’s season. The company list was roughly an even split on gender (a good sign and certainly not to be assumed, even today), while (not surprisingly) the list of parts was greatly imbalanced in favor of the gents. The two women that were organizing the productions (each directed one of the two plays, and assisted with the other) decided to boldly go, and chose to cast both plays along gender lines. Based on the performances, listening to the cast talk about their experiences, and the reviews, it must be regarded as a great success.