Recently it was announced that Macbeth would be on at the Manchester’s Royal Exchange theatre. Unlike usual, this play has led to lots of controversy, as the main part of Macbeth is being played by a woman. This shows the play to be a pioneer for gender-equality in theatre, as actors tried out for the parts they wanted, not that their gender lead them to audition for. However many critics dislike this decision (I can assure you most of these are men) even though as the Royal Exchange artistic director Sarah Frankcom said: “Up until the 20th century, there was a massive tradition of women playing this role.”
Then why are people so against another gender playing this role?
It’s not as if its common belief it’ll lead to prostitution, unlike the reasoning earlier throughout history. Or the reasoning throughout the Victorian Era, that if (God Forbid) a woman was in theatre her children would be neglected and it would be seen as a scandalous affair.
If anything other genders should be allowed to play the character Macbeth, to break out of the stereo-typical mould of the woman that is so often presented through popular culture, whether it is on television, magazines or stage. This could reduce the ‘weak’ and ‘unstable’ model of a woman that is so often presented back to us through media, and the use of a woman actress may show Macbeth to be more powerful.
Maxine Peake (the woman who is playing Macbeth) says this part has enabled her to stretch her acting ability, instead of playing a female character she doesn’t understand, showing this gender-equal approach has lead to improvement as an actor. Peake shows increased enthusiasm for this role over others explored, quoting, “It’s proper full-on. It’s a bit like a dream come true because I’m on stage and I’m doing a sword fight and then I’m punching him in the head.”
Macbeth being played by a woman also causes the classic misogynistic tone to flip, instead making it more understandable for a woman to be saying the lines rather than a man, allowing the character to have more depth and for it to feel more thought out, than if the lines were for a man.
Her representation of Macbeth will be “A combination of female and male”, Frankcom stating “We’ve looked at gender as a spectrum rather than something that is either male or female,” she said. “Hamlet occupies different parts of that spectrum at different parts of the play.” This understanding of gender as a spectrum can show the audience how some people may find their gender to be fluid, as described by Frankcom and this allows much more diversity in the acting of Macbeth.
Hopefully this opened door for gender-equality will not only challenge the gender of characters in the West End but also open doors for more genders to become actors, this revolutionary step following the casting of Laverne Cox in ‘Orange is the New Black’, opening both screen and stage to more diverse actors and, in turn, characters.
By Katie Norris, Year 11