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It's Richard III, as you've never seen her

Ian Burrell,Media,Culture Correspondent
Saturday 31 May 2003 00:00 BST

In Shakespeare's time, the Globe Theatre in London would not have countenanced casting a woman, even in a female role. But yesterday the Globe unveiled the first production of Richard III with women playing every part, including that of the "hunch-back" king.

Kathryn Hunter, who appeared in the Mike Leigh film All or Nothing, is in the lead role. The Globe said the production was the first time a female had played the part most famously performed by Sir Laurence Olivier.

Mark Rylance, the Globe's artistic director, came up with the idea as part of a season of same-sex casts, called Regime Change. The pint-sized Hunter will also appear in an all-female production of The Taming of the Shrew, as Kate and Janet McTeer will play Pettruchio.

The Globe will also stage all-male productions of Richard II and Marlowe's Edward II. Rylance said: "Shakespeare's original actors were not limited by the gender of the parts they played, but enjoyed a revolutionary theatre of the imagination where commoner played king, man played woman, and, within the plays, woman, man." Rylance, an actor and a director, was Olivia in the Globe's all-male production of Twelfth Night last year. Richard III also has Amanda Harris as Buckingham, Anna Healy as Hastings, Liz Kettle as Edward IV and the Bishop of Ely, and Penelope Beaumont as Lord Stanley.

Hunter, who has played King Lear, said the casting was a response to the practice in Shakespeare's day of letting men play every part. Banning women from the stage was a central theme in the film Shakespeare in Love, which showed the heroine Viola, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, disguising herself as a male actor to get closer to Joseph Fiennes's Shakespeare.

The casting of Hunter as Richard is in a long tradition of imaginative portrayals of one of the darkest figures in British history. The most sinister depiction of the king was surely that by Vincent Price, shown murdering his family in the 1958 film The Tower of London.

In Sir Ian McKellen's Richard III, the king was transformed into Hitler. In the television comedy Blackadder, Rowan Atkinson as Edmund Blackadder accidentally kills Richard at Bosworth.

The Globe has 600 tickets at £5 each for each performance. The season opened this week and runs until 27 September.

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