Can I not lie to you?” says Rebekah Murrell. The actor-director is discussing her performance in the Globe Theatre’s new production of Romeo and Juliet, but she wants to get something off her chest. “Even when I got this job I was like, I’m really not sure about this. I’m not sure if I can do this, why I would do this, or why we all still do this.” Isabel Adomakoh Young, her friend and fellow actor who is also currently starring as Juliet (this time at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre), nods in agreement.
“I guess I couldn’t quite understand why we would tell these stories of old,” Murrell continues. “I felt a bit like, if you want to tell a story about toxic masculinity, why don’t you get a brilliant new playwright to write one rather than doing Othello – which is dubious and racist – again? That was my feeling before. I don’t feel like that now. The reason we do these classics again and again is because they teach us something new… something we recognise.”
Hark back a couple of decades and the idea that two Black female actors would simultaneously play one of Shakespeare’s great characters on the London stage would have seemed like a fantasy. But things are changing, and – as the theatre industry continues to reckon with its problems around racial diversity, both on and off stage – Shakespeare productions are leading the way.
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