Saturday Review: Julius Caesar at the Donmar Theatre and The Hunger Angel
Presenter of Saturday Review
I woke up on Thursday morning to the sound of the theatre director Phyllida Lloyd on the Today programme making what sounded like a rather bureaucratic argument for gender-blind casting in the theatre. European equal rights legislation would make it impossible for a big company like the Royal Shakespeare Company not to have balanced casts, she suggested, and once they had equal numbers of male and female actresses it would be up to directors to solve the problem of how you make the plays work.
It sounded like something that would outrage the Shakespeare traditionalists - a terrifying double-whammy of intrusive EEC legislation and theatrical novelty - but it seemed odd to make the case through work-place regulations, which can easily be side-stepped in the name of art.
As it happened just the night before Lloyd had presented a far more convincing argument - in her all woman production of Julius Caesar at the Donmar Theatre. Halfway through - watching Harriet Walter as Brutus - I’d found myself thinking “one day gender-blind casting is going to be as much of a non-issue as colour-blind casting is now”. It’s slightly startling, in fact, that it’s taken so long. If a woman can be a general in the real world then there’s no reason she can’t be one on stage - unless, perhaps, you want to put on the kind of in-period production you rarely see these days.
As for Lloyd’s Julius Caesar I’m still making my mind up, as was Miranda Sawyer when I said goodnight to her. It’s that kind of production I think, which means I’m looking forward to our discussion this week.
The other guests this week, incidentally, are Cahal Dallat and Gillian Slovo - and, as well as issues of Shakespearean casting we’re going to be talking about a novel by the Nobel Prize winning German writer Herta Muller, The Hunger Angel, which tells the story of a young German boy interned in a Soviet labour camp and the Royal Academy’s exhibition Constable, Gainsborough, Turner and the Making of Landscape.
The other two items this week are Martin McDonagh’s film Seven Psychopaths and Victoria Wood’s drama about the pianist Joyce Hatto, whose late-flourishing career turned out to be the result of a quite a bit of unacknowledged borrowing from other recordings.