It’s difficult to describe the concept of The Reversed Shakespeare Company’s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that doesn’t sound like a Blur song. A play about the relationship between a boy and a girl, written by a boy, played by a company of boys originally, but now with a more gender balanced cast of boys and girls, that is seeing the roles reversed and the boys become girls and the girls become boys.
So in their portrayal of Shakespeare’s best-loved comedy they’ve switched the gender of each character.
- A man chases a woman through a wood begging her to love him.
- Five incompetent women try, and fail, to put on a play to impress the royals.
- The king of the fairies falls madly in love with a woman disguised as a donkey.
If that all sounds a little different to what you’ve come to expect, that’s the idea. The Reversed Shakespeare Company was set up in 2015 by Lindsay Dukes, Cassie Webb and Matthew Maltby, and between them played roles from Romeo to Beatrice, via Miranda, Marina, Iago and Third Lord. Recognising that women make up 16% of Shakespeare’s characters, Women speak as few as 0.67% of the lines in some of Shakespeare’s plays, such as Timon of Athens, yet 68% of the London theatregoing audience is female there might be more for female actors to do than, in Lindsay’s words just be, ‘dragged across the stage as Lavinia or paraded in the brothel as Marina.’
They also wanted to see what would happen if men could see and experience the sort of vulnerability afforded to Shakespeare’s women but not to his male characters and in the process ask some questions. Are women and men all capable of the same actions, feelings and beliefs? How do women woo, and can men be wooed? Is vulnerability reserved only for the physically weak? Can a woman hold the space that men seem to have inherited naturally?
And crucially, can a woman with a donkey’s head and a need to steal the spotlight really win over the fairy king?