Man plays a woman pretending to be man

When not playing Richard III at the Apollo recently, Mark Rylance appeared in a parallel production by the same company on the same stage and using the same set.  I am not sure the company did both plays on the same day (extraordinary if they did, amazing even if they didn’t) but the two pieces were certainly done many times a week each for a whole season, now sadly just ended.

If you hadn’t guessed already, the second play was Twelfth Night. As this was a production in the Elizabethan style, the female roles were played by chaps. As there are rather a lot of restrictions on stage performances by school-aged actors, adult men played the female roles rather than the teenaged boys that the Elizabethans would expected to see on stage (acting was no job for a respectable woman until the mid-20th century). The plot calls for a girl to pretend to be her own lost brother in order to gain access to court, and a huge amount of misunderstandings and fun arise as a result, only compounded by the fact that the female parts are acted by males.  Mark Rylance once again plays a blinder, with a terrific performance as Milady who falls for the young man, who is of course the girl, played by a bloke.  If you are confused by this description, you should see the play.

So not only was Richard III ending on the West End stage just as the long lost remains of the real Richard hit the world’s headlines, Twelfth Night ended just after the House of Commons voted to allow those of the same sex to marry. So Milady could nowadays have married her boy lover, even though she was a chap and he was a chap too.  Shakespeare is nothing if not topical, 400 years on…

On the tube to the theatre, a man gave up his seat to me. Tonight a small child of two whom I had never met addressed me as ‘grandpa’!  Just what is going on? I thought I was more or less sixteen, as always…


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