Kiss me, Kevin … RSC gender-swaps the Bard

New take on Shakespeare’s Taming Of The Shrew will see women playing men and the first ever Richard II with a non-white cast at the London Globe

  • Royal Shakespeare Company announced a new take of The Taming Of The Shrew
  • Women will play the male roles and vice versa in a gender-swapped version 
  • The Globe will stage Richard II with a company of women of colour next year 

Recent versions of Shakespeare’s work have seen female Hamlets and Othellos, while director Phyllida Lloyd hired an all-women cast for a trilogy of Julius Caesar, Henry IV and The Tempest

It is one of Shakespeare’s most highly cherished plays – a racy and hilarious look at the battle of the sexes set in 16th century Italy.

But a new production of The Taming Of The Shrew is set to freshen things up.

The Royal Shakespeare Company has announced a reimagining of the play which will see women play roles written for men and vice versa.

While men played women in Shakespeare’s time, gender reversals have become almost commonplace in modern productions of his work.

Recent versions have seen female Hamlets and Othellos, while director Phyllida Lloyd hired an all-women cast for a trilogy of Julius Caesar, Henry IV and The Tempest at the Donmar Warehouse in London.

Acclaimed actress Kathryn Hunter is set to play the RSC’s first female Timon of Athens, while the Globe in London will stage Richard II with a company of women of colour next year.

But this is the first time the world’s leading Shakespeare company has reversed gender roles for a play.

The RSC’s latest production of Troilus And Cressida, set during the siege of Troy, had a 50/50 split of male and female actors. They even made sure women had ‘exactly the same stage time and line count as men’.


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The Globe in London will stage Richard II with a company of women of colour next year

The company has previously said it will choose actors for its 2019 summer season who reflect the nation in ‘terms of gender, ethnicity, regionality, and disability’.

Gregory Doran, the RSC’s artistic director, said its plan is to assemble a diverse cast of 27 actors for a season of three Shakespeare plays – As You Like It, The Taming Of The Shrew and Measure For Measure.

He said: ‘Hamlet says the point of theatre is ‘to hold a mirror up to Nature’. If as a young person you don’t see your reflection in that mirror, why should you engage in that cultural offer?’

Mr Doran added: ‘We want to create a season of work which places contemporary audiences at its heart, which speaks directly to the present moment. I’ve always been struck by Shakespeare’s use of the word ‘now’. 

It’s his favourite word. He starts plays with it (‘Now is the winter of our discontent’), introduces choruses with it (‘Now entertain conjecture of a time’).

The RSC’s latest production of Troilus And Cressida, set during the siege of Troy, had a 50/50 split of male and female actors (pictured: Gavin Fowler and Amber James)

‘ ‘Now, now, very now’! It takes you right into the moment. The stories he tells may have been written down hundreds of years ago but they’re happening now, to all of us. I hope this season will express the now, now, very now-ness of Shakespeare’s plays.’

The arts has been gripped by a diversity drive in recent years, with publicly funded organisations under growing pressure from Arts Council England to make more progress. 

Its most recent annual diversity report found ‘a large gap between organisational aspiration and action’.

Doran has previously denied the RSC’s diversity drive is simply a box-ticking exercise. ‘It is always what is best for the play,’ he said.

Justin Audibert, who will direct the upcoming version of The Taming Of The Shrew, has reimagined England as a matriarchy ‘with Baptista Minola seeking to sell off her son Katherine – played by Joseph Arkley – to the highest bidder’.

All three plays will be performed at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford next year before going on to six regional theatres.

Acclaimed actress Kathryn Hunter is set to play the RSC’s first female Timon of Athens

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