In recent years, producers of dramatic works have begun experimenting with colour-blind and/or gender-blind casting, choosing actors not because their physical features fit the character description but because of their potential for the role. The idea behind this is that it better reflects a society which is striving for more equality, as well as producing some interesting interpretations of well-known pieces of drama and literature. It is certainly causing some fierce debate among critics.
On the one hand, plays written in past eras tend to have considerably more male than female roles and those few female roles tend to be minor characters with few lines. To some extent, this limits the opportunities for women and people of different nationalities and reinforces the patriarchal and chauvinistic ideas of the time of writing. But equally, there are those that argue that the works of Shakespeare, for example, should be performed as intended to be fully appreciated. It can greatly change the effect of a piece for one of the character’s genders to be changed. However, to be truly accurate to the initial performances, it would mean all the roles being played by men, and when considering the influence and importance of the characters created by Shakespeare, it begs the question, why do women not have the opportunity to tackle these intricate and complex characters?
The production of Hamlet I saw with the school last year at The Globe was cast gender-blind, but the characters’ genders were not changed to fit those of the actor playing them. The women were not necessarily playing male characters turned female, but the male characters themselves. Perhaps more shocking than this, was that the female part of Ophelia was played by a man. A man playing an incredibly feminised character, wearing a dress in the process, was a bold move. The most surprising thing, however, was that the audience became so absorbed in the plot, in the characterisation, in the verse, that we quickly forgot about the gender entirely. We didn’t see a woman playing a prince, we saw Hamlet, Prince of Denmark; we didn’t see a man in a dress, we saw Ophelia, we saw her loss and her madness.
So, in conclusion, I think gender and colour-blind casting can be a real force for good, putting forward a message of racial and gender equality. I believe it to be something that needs to be seen to be fully understood and before one can truly form an opinion on it. But I do think it will be something that grows in popularity in the near future, especially with gender changes to popular characters whether in film, TV or in the theatre. For example, this Sunday will be the first episode of Doctor Who with a female lead, particularly remarkable for such a long-running show.
Katya, Head of Charities
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