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  • Writer's pictureKate Sawyer

Twelfth Night: A Gender Experiment

Playing playing one of Shakespeare's characters is a challenge at the best of times. To play three of them, with only two weeks of rehearsals, in two different casts and playing the gender opposite your own? A whole LOT of fun!

Director, Natasha Rickman, contacted me and asked me if I would like to be part of the revival of her project 'Twelfth Night: A Gender Experiment'. Natasha first launched the project in 2015. A three week run at The Rose Bankside Theatre saw a company of twelve (six men and six women) form four companies; one 'own gender', 3 men and 3 women playing in their own gender in the gender the parts were written for, one 'opposite gender' 3 men and 3 women playing the gender opposite from their own in the parts that were originally written for the part of the gender opposite from their own, one 'all male' 6 men playing both the male and female parts and one 'all female' all parts played by women. I saw the original 'opposite gender' cast perform at The Rose and found the project really interesting. So when Natasha asked me to play the line Toby/Sebastian/Valentine I jumped at the chance.

As Sir Toby at The RSC Dell in Stratford upon Avon.

But like I already hinted at, it was challenging! There are A LOT of lines in those three parts and there were two configurations of blocking to learn (I was to appear in both the 'all female' and 'opposite gender' casts) but overall the process was fascinating. I notice that unlike the majority of the female roles I have played in Shakespeare these male roles often drive the action (particularly in the fight scene for Sir Toby) and they also tend to lead physically. Of course there are no stage directions in Shakespeare but much of Toby's language towards Maria suggests him leading a physical intimacy as does Sebastian with Olivia so that was interesting to explore, is that specifically a 'male' behaviour?

The all male cast playing the RSC Dell Stage in Stratford Upon Avon.

Wearing male costume was also interesting. The preparations take only a few minutes compared to the time it normally takes to prepare for the stage, make up, hair costume. And it is much easier to move around and get down and about in trousers that a skirt- much less chance of the audience accidentally seeing your knickers!

The 'opposite gender' cast on stage at The RSC Dell

It was so lovely to work with such a talented bunch of actors who were so generous in recognising we were sharing parts, which was interesting in itself, being in the rehearsal room with an actor playing the same role as you. There's only one way to deal with it; do it your way! The cast included: James Ronan & Rose O'Loughlin as Viola, Henry Gilbert & Tanya Vital as Olivia, Clare Humphrey & Ali Zaidi as Maria, Fred Gray & Laura Evelyn as Malvolio/Antonio/Capatain, Robin Morrissey and Kelly Williams as Orsino/Feste/Sir Andrew, Thomas Flynn & Myself as Sir Toby/Sebastian/Valentine.

Me, on stage at the RSC Dell playing Sir Toby Belch.

RSC Dell stage We performed all four varieties of the show to blue skies and big family audiences at the in Stratford-Upon-Avon on the Saturday and Sunday before heading back to London to perform the all 'same gender' and 'opposite gender' versions to sold out audiences at The Rose Bankside.

If you fancy seeing more of the photos and finding out more about the project do check it out on Twitter @12thnightgender

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