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Hampstead Theatre under fire for predominantly male casts

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Natalie Calkin
WVoN co-editor

Edward Hall, Artistic Director at the Hampstead Theatre, is under fire for staging plays that feature predominantly all male casts.

It is currently showing Chariots of Fire with a cast of 18 men and three women, followed by the Druid Murphy Trilogy with 13 male and four female roles.

A double bill of Shakespeare – Henry V and The Winter’s Tale – will then be played by an all-male cast.

The theatre receives public funding and therefore has an obligation to respect diversity and equality.  However, Hampstead is one of many theatres that could do better in terms of championing these values.

The actor’s Union Equity has recently written to 43 subsidised theatres as part of an ongoing campaign to ensure a fair balance in the performing arts.  The letters highlighted the need for better employment of women and asked how they planned to rectify the situation.

They received a less than enthusiastic response — only a dozen theatres responded.

The letter, featured in the Camden New Journal last week, requested that Hall “ensures that the lack of regard shown for gender balance shown throughout this current season is redressed within the future programming of productions on the main stage.”

The theatre’s official response stated that “Hampstead does not, and has never, excluded women from its productions as a matter of policy.”  

The response went on to provide statistics on the number of male versus female actors employed and listed the plays that have featured women.

As well as being the artistic director at the Hampstead Theatre, Hall undertakes the same role for a theatre company called Propellor, which stages Shakespeare’s plays using an all-male cast.

Hall says this is to “reflect the traditional way of approaching the play…it’s simply because that’s how they used to be produced.”

This year marks the 448th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth.  When he wrote his plays, women were barred from the stage because it was illegal and considered “indecent” for them to appear.

As Jenni Tomlin states in her blog on Stephen Fry playing Twelfth Night’s Malvolio in an all-male cast at the Globe this summer:

“The heritage of all-male theatre serves to highlight our deep history of sexism and inequality. An inequality that raged through the centuries denying women the right to vote, own property, be educated, defend themselves from domestic violence…

“I’m not advocating we should forget this history – but should we be celebrating its existence by re-enacting such a sexist culture today?”

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