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Richard Eyre hits out at gender-swapped Shakespeare for ‘tampering’ with rhythms of text

Richard Eyre. Photo: Richard Hubert-Smith
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Richard Eyre has criticised gender-swapped Shakespeare productions that make changes to the text for losing the beat and rhythm of the playwright’s words.

The former National Theatre director said the iambic pentameter of Shakespearean language is disrupted if genders are reassigned and words changed – for example lines such as ‘I love that man’ becoming ‘I love that woman’.

According to the Times, he told an audience at the Hay Festival that the Royal Shakespeare Company’s recent production of Timon of Athens, which featured Kathryn Hunter in the gender-swapped central role of Lady Timon, had made a “very bad decision” in “tampering with the beat and rhythm” of the play.

“The plays are there. Do the plays. You can do anything with them. Productions are like drawing on sand, the tide comes in. Do the plays. Don’t rework it,” he said.

The RSC’s gender-swapped Timon of Athens comes amid an increase in the number of classic plays being staged with women in traditionally male lead roles. Currently running at Shakespeare’s Globe is a trilogy of history plays featuring Sarah Amankwah, Helen Schlesinger and Michelle Terry in the roles of Henry V, Falstaff and Hotspur.

The Taming of the Shrew, which opened at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in March, has flipped the gender of all roles, while the Young Vic has recently announced a version of Hamlet with Cush Jumbo starring in the lead role, which will open next year.

Cush Jumbo to play Hamlet as part of Young Vic’s new season

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