Our first show was a gender-reversed Julius Caesar in May 2018.
“A dynamic, gender-reversed, pacey production…kept its rapt audience captivated with its shenanigans of intrigue, power struggles, murder and revenge.” – Daily Info
Photos: Cate Nunn
When casting shows in Oxford, we noticed a recurring problem: we repeatedly had to turn down incredibly talented women simply because of their gender. Despite cross-casting whenever possible, time and again we found the writing or the dynamics of the play meant we were restricted to giving the ‘best’ roles to male actors. We wanted to change that. So we set up Nova Theatre, and thought a good place to start would be a gender-swapped Julius Caesar, with a cast of 14 women and two men, set in the modern day, in an all-female army barracks.
Gender swapping has always been a part of Shakespearean performance, and it opens up so many possibilities and interpretations that just aren’t possible with ‘straight’ casting. It’s now not even particularly unusual to see a female Lear or Hamlet, which to us certainly feels like progress.
The female dominance of this setting means that the competitiveness between fellow soldiers is no longer a testosterone-fuelled battle for glory and revenge. The power struggle takes on a new quality, and the focus is instead more on the nuances of Shakespeare’s language - wit, intelligence, and sincerity of intention are their weapons. That said, these woman are soldiers, and still capable of turning violent when their authority is challenged.
In this world, it just so happens that Caesar is a woman, and Calpurnia is a man. That’s it. We changed the pronouns because all actors are playing the gender with which they identify in real life. However, name changes like ‘Prospera’ for Prospero are often a jarring distraction. It would patronise an audience to re-name a character just for the sake of conveying their gender. The gender is already conveyed by the actor. Besides, ‘Julia Caesar’ and ‘Mark Antonia’ don’t quite have the same ring to them.
It would be easy to say that this production is politically relevant because of the new wave feminist movement, or the #metoo campaign. Yes, in some ways the gender swap makes female power a big focus of the show - but paradoxically, it also cancels out the relevance of gender altogether. This isn’t a ‘women’s play’. It’s a play. People are good, bad, vindictive, vengeful, joyful and complex. But we think the world of Julius Caesar, inverted, can shed light on some universal and contemporary issues which affect us all - regardless of gender.
- Alex Coke, Justine Malone & Nancy White
Carla Buckingham: Soothsayer / Cinna the Poet / Messenger / Servant 2
Robert Cole: Portia
Maria Crocker: Claudius / Servant 1 / Popilius Lena
Barbara Denton: Lepidus / Caius Ligarius
Clare Denton: Cassius
Elizabeth Dobson: Brutus
Lucy Hoult: Metellus Cimber
Helen Kavanagh: Octavius
Laura King: Julius Caesar
Justine Malone: Mark Antony
Ian Nutt: Calpurnia
Kate O'Connor: Trebonius
Alison Stibbe: Casca
Nancy White: Decius
Hannah Wilmshurst: Lucius
Rachel Wilmshurst: Cinna the Conspirator / Pindarus
Director: Alexandra Coke
Assistant director: Natasha Kennedy
Stage management: Lalya Katib
Movement: Nancy White
Fight choreography: Khlye Sayer
Hair and makeup consultant: Rachel Wilmshurst
Lighting: Ophelie Lebrasseur