Shakespeare’s play, ‘The Winter’s Tale’, has been my favourite of his dramatic works for a number of years now. The reasons for this are too elaborate to give proper explanation here, but let me simply say that they have to do, fundamentally, with mythic resonances relating to the Great Goddess.
On Sunday I attended a production here in Vancouver of this piece. The most unique aspect of this production is that it features an all female cast. The gender of the characters as written by Shakespeare remain, but the actors have not a male among them. I throughly enjoyed this production. There was one element in particular which so affected me that it unfolded within an insight into possibilities for performing Shakespeare. This moment of illumination was inspired by the actor playing Leontes King of Sicilia, Corina Akeson. Her performance of this part is nothing short of remarkable. While on stage she is Leontes. Corina’s ability to transmit a convincing male persona is testimony to her talent, which is prodigious. The entire cast is strong and their ability to tell the story kept us engaged all the way to the end. However, it was Corina alone who was able to portray a convincing male character and it was the phenomenal performance she gave which generated within me a moment of revelation. It has to do with this theatrical convention of casting a female actor as a male character. Which is, of course, the reverse of the convention mandatory in Shakespeare’s theatre. Now, this insight/revelation is absolutely contingent upon the ability of the actor to portray a convincing male character. If the actor is obviously female or if the gender of the character is switched to match the sex of the actor, then what I have to say is null and void. These are valid theatrical experiments, but they have nothing to do with what I’m attempting to articulate here.
When a male actor plays the part of Leontes, it is all too easy for an audience member to perceive the actor and the character as only a single stage presence. In fact what most often occurs (if the actor is skilled and well cast) is that you are more aware of the actor’s performance than of the nature of the character he’s playing. Current acting methods discourage any “space” between the actor and the character she/he is playing, but there are performance traditions which accentuate this space between actor and character, so that what the audience perceives on stage is much more complex, layered, and theatrical, than anything we’re accustomed to. It was while watching Corina convincingly play King Leontes that I realized I was witnessing this kind of theatrical magic. As Corina is a skilled actor who is able to fully identify with the character she plays, coupled with the fact that she is a female actor cast as a male character, I was witness to a double stage presence which allowed me for the first time to see the character of Leontes vividly, whereas previously my perception of him was restricted and too limited by watching productions utilizing same sex casting in this role. Knowing that the actor is female makes the masculine traits of the character stand out in a way which highlight them for scrutinization. One clearly can see that what we most commonly rationalize away as “natural” male behaviour, is in fact a style of performance. Now, this knowledge I’ve had for awhile but it was incredible to see it enacted live before me, and it proved once again just how edifying a theatrical event can be.
I’m always thankful for such experiences in the theatre. It’s one of the innumerable reasons why I fall in love with it over and over again. As I mentioned at the top, this experience has inspired within me an abundance of ideas for Shakespearean possibilities which I’m enthusiastic to explore.
Latest posts by Brendan Patrick McClarty (see all)
- Brendan: On Filling the Audition Room with Imagination - October 10, 2014
- Brendan: Relying on someone else to give me work as an actor is just too limiting of an existence - September 3, 2014
- Brendan: Theatrical Magic in The Winter’s Tale - August 8, 2014