The landmark first season at the Globe theatre in London is set to open in June with an all-male Henry V, amid fears that the venue's much-documented drive for authenticity is becoming a burden. .
The management of the Globe, which is built on the site of the theatre in Southwark immortalised by Shakespeare, has been reluctant to confirm the decision. However, it is believed that it will be directed by Richard Olivier, elder son of Sir Laurence, and a men's movement supporter.
The decision centres on matters of historical authenticity. The Globe, the brainchild of the late American actor Sam Wanamaker, has been at pains to produce a building as close to the original as possible.
But according to one observer, authenticity at the Globe is in danger of becoming "the dreaded A-word". According to another there is a "massive pressure coming from the Board" to follow "authentic" Elizabethan techniques not just architecturally but aesthetically, even down to using hand-stitched, natural-dyed costumes.
But how authentic is "authentic" in 1997? Clearly, playing Henry V with an all-male cast can be rationalised as following the Shakespearean tradition, where plays were all performed by men, the parts of women being taken by boys. Are we then to expect similar fluting tones from the Globe's stage?
Single gender productions have had their successes, notably the staging by Declan Donnellan's Cheek By Jowl company of As You Like It with Adrian Lester and Tom Hollander as the love-lorn Rosalind and Celia. Barbara Matthews, Cheek By Jowl's administrator, says that authenticity was less important than the exploration of gender and love.
Of greater contentiousness may be the idea of putting men in frocks. As Ms Matthews says, one of the boons of the all-male As You Like It was to allow audiences the widest possible range of emotional responses according to their own sexual leanings. How appropriate that seems for a play quintessentially about male bonding remains to be seen.
More worrying is what the the Globe's choice signals about the role of women in theatre.
Gaynor Macfarlane, who directed an all-female production of the 400-year- old Damon & Pythias last year, says positive discrimination is necessary when it comes to the plays of the era because so few parts were for women.
However help may be at hand. The other plays in the Globe's season - The Winter's Tale, The Maid's Tragedy and Chaste Maid of Cheapside - all give prominent parts to women.
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