As the debate surrounding casting and who should get to play which characters continues, at the Globe in London they’re casting women as Shakespeare’s kings.
The ethos at the theatre, synonymous with the world’s greatest playwright, is ambitiously progressive with gender and racial equality at the top of their agenda.
Artistic director Louise Terry believes the arts must be at the forefront of change in society.
“It’s not gender blind because that would be pretending we don’t see gender and of course we do see gender so it’s gender conscious,” she said.
“If we really believe that we want a world that is equal and fair and inclusive, art has to set that precedent.”
Last year, their productions achieved a 50-50 gender split as well as being representative of the racial mix of London, with their overarching aim being to reflect the diversity of the UK both on and off-stage.
This season, they’re staging Shakespeare’s history plays, Henry IV and Henry V, casting women as the king in all of them.
Terry says Shakespeare wasn’t as concerned with gender as we are now, women weren’t allowed to act on stage so he often cast men in female roles, and they’re now doing it in reverse.
“In the same way we’ve got the perfect model in what he (Shakespeare) gave us, that he was worried about the gender of the character but not necessarily worrying about the gender of the actor,” she said.
“He would write women knowing that men would play them so we just flip it and do the same now”.
Sarah Amankwah plays Henry in Henry V and is the first woman of colour to play him on a major UK stage.
She said: “As a black women in society is most times invisible, most times I generally tend to be cast as an immigrant, so challenging stereotypes is vital.
“The more we’re able to challenge that onscreen and on stage the more people’s perceptions on stories or certain narratives can be challenged.”
Casting issues have recently been hitting the headlines more than ever in terms of gender, race, sexuality and disability.
The Film Girl, which came out this year, tells the story of a teenage ballet dancer who transitions and was criticised for not making a transgender actor the lead.
Amankwah believes although these discussions are important. “At the end of the day, from my perspective as a creative, our job is to tell stories, whether you’re black, Hispanic, whatever ethnicity you’re from or whatever gender, as long as you can tell the story, I don’t think that should really matter as long as we’re portraying the human condition.
“That’s where the real art comes alive and people set aside whether male, female, trans and look to the art.”
Henry IV, Part 1 and 2, and Henry V run from 1 June – 11 October.