Had Shakespeare been writing now, would he have put women in positions of power? That is the question wittily provoked by the Ant Theatre Company’s production of The Tempest, directed by Simon Beyer, that reverses the gender of every character.
As far as the company knows, this is the first professional production to change the sex of all the roles. It is also the first professional role for Holly Thurman as Prospera.
In its masculine form, the role is often reserved for actors nearing the end of their career. For Thurman it’s a fine debut. She is mature, gentle, capable of rising to righteous anger and she holds on to power, almost unflinching, to the end.
Her servants are the dainty Arielle, played effectively by the angular, spiky Roanna Cochrane, and a grunting, neanderthal Caliban (Sarah Strong). So far, placing women in the roles seems perfectly natural.
Where the gender reversal works less well is in the low-life, drunken, scheming sub-plots. It is not that women are not capable of being ignoble, but they struggle to generate the laughter that can be associated with such baseness.
Humour emerges instead in unexpected places. The nuptial masque, with Laura Beck as Ceres, Hanna Thor-Finch as Iris and Clare Kenton as Juno, is amusingly sexual, as is its audience, Ferdinina and Mirundo.
As Mirundo, Thomas Mitchell is a baby-faced innocent, while Louise Lee as Ferdinina is taller, more worldly and no conventional beauty. Together they bring out the absurdity – implicit in Shakespeare’s original text – of dewy-eyed love and intense sexual longing.
Brockley Jack Theatre, London, September 13-October 9
- Simon Beyer
- Ant Theatre Company
- William Shakespeare
- Cast includes
- Cesca Martin, Clare Kenton, Claire-Louise English, Hanna Thor-Finch, Heidi-Ann Frick
- Running time
- 2hrs 15mins