Good roles for Bard girls

The latest all-women cast takes to the Globe stage in Much Ado About Nothing

Following the success of the all-female Richard III and The Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare's Globe last year, Much Ado About Nothing is now staged by a company of women players. The cast, directed by Tamara Harvey, includes Yolanda Vasquez and Josie Lawrence as Beatrice and Benedick, the lovers engaged in a battle of wit and will. The courtship of the other leading couple, Hero and Claudio, is played out by Mariah Gale and Ann Ogbomo.

How does the dynamic of the couples work with an all-female cast? "Any time an actor is playing at being in love, they are not actually in love, except in rare instances," says the director, whose third production at the Globe this is, having been assistant director for Twelfth Night and Richard III. "To be in love is always a leap of the imagination for the actors. There is a wonderful chemistry, especially with the witty sparring of Beatrice and Benedick. Hopefully the audience, who may be shocked at the start, will soon forget they are actually two women and see a young couple instead."

This production is part of the Globe's Star-Crossed Lovers season; the other productions, Romeo and Juliet and Measure for Measure, will be performed by mixed companies. The Globe's artistic director, Mark Rylance, takes to the stage as Vincentio in Measure for Measure (opening on 18 June). All three plays will be seen in "original practices" productions, exploring the clothing, music, dance and settings possible in the Globe of 1599.

Usually there are only a few strong female roles in any Shakespeare. But during the Much Ado About Nothing audition process, there was suddenly a wealth of opportunity. "Seeing all these strong actresses and having more than two or three roles to give them, as well as roles for older women - who can get swept away by more youthful actresses - felt much fairer," Harvey says.

"The gender reversals also throw up double meanings," she adds. "After the wedding [between Hero and Claudio] goes to pot, Beatrice says to Benedick - who has asked if there is anything he can do to help because Beatrice is crying about her slandered cousin, Hero - 'It is a man's office, but not yours.' I don't know why this resonates, but it strikes something when it is one woman talking to another."

Also, having an all-female cast has been a safe environment. "We have been able to experiment and explore perhaps in a less self-conscious way than if men had been about."

Harvey spells out the magic of working at Shakespeare's Globe once rehearsals had moved into the theatre. "In most rehearsals like this, you don't see daylight, but here we were out in the open air. It has also been an odd experience, because while we are rehearsing the theatre has been doing guided tours."

'Much Ado About Nothing', Shakespeare's Globe, London SE1 (020-7401 9919) to 25 September

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