Female directors take over the RSC but there'll be no 50:50 split on stage

Anita Singh
Erica Whyman will direct Romeo and Juliet plus a musical about the life of Joan Littlewood - Jay Williams

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s new season will feature an all-female directing line-up for the first time in its history.

Greg Doran, the RSC’s artistic director, unveiled a raft of productions for summer 2018 that will have women at the helm.

Polly Findlay will direct Macbeth as a “contemporary psychological thriller” starring Christopher Eccleston in his RSC debut.

Erica Whyman will direct Romeo and Juliet as the story of “a generation of young people let down by their parents”. She also has a second production planned, a musical based on the life of visionary theatre director Joan Littlewood.

Fiona Laird, Maria Aberg and Jo Davies complete the line-up. Doran considers it to be a happy coincidence. “We didn’t suddenly go, ‘Let’s have them all directed by women,’” he said. “We had reached a point where these women directors had been with us and had grown, developed, and it just so happens that it’s an entirely female-directed season.”

However, while the new head of Shakespeare’s Globe, Michelle Terry, has pledged to bring in gender-blind casting and a 50:50 ratio of men and women on stage, the RSC will not follow.

Christopher Eccleston contacted the RSC's Greg Doran and asked to play Macbeth  Credit: Clara Molden

“In terms of re-gendering roles, we are looking for balance. Michelle Terry at the Globe has made a very bold statement about re-gendering so that it’s going to be 50:50 right across the board.

“I don’t want to impose that on directors,” he said.

“That would mean we couldn’t do an all-female production, for example. I want to keep it much more fluid and organic than that.

“I’m not going to say we’re going to go 50:50 because, in a way, Shakespeare was writing for a group of blokes, actually.”

Terry said last month that her first season would provide “equal amounts of work for male or female” actors. Her predecessor, Emma Rice, set the wheels in motion when she took over in 2016, saying: “There is no reason why the Duke of Gloucester can’t be a woman. If anybody bended gender, it was Shakespeare, so I think it just takes a change of mindset.”

In Shakespeare’s day, all roles were played by men. Recent gender swaps include Maxine Peake as Hamlet at Manchester’s Royal Exchange in 2014, and Terry playing Henry V at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre this year.

Eccleston is the star name for the season, and lobbied Doran for the role. "Chris said, 'When you get to Macbeth, can I do it, please?'" Doran disclosed.

"Macbeth  is one of those roles that is very difficult to cast. We don’t breed Macbeths very often in this country, so it’s great to have somebody of his clout and his talent.”

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