Actors Merely bend stage gender rules

Merely Theatres Romeo and Juliet is a gender-blind production
Merely Theatres Romeo and Juliet is a gender-blind production
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Turn up to Lowther Pavilion next week, and you could see a man uttering the immortal line ‘O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?’ or see the twins from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Viola and Sebastian, as two women.

The unusual casting comes from Merely Theatre’s genderblind versions of the well -loved classics Romeo And Juliet and Twelfth Night, playing at the Lytham theatre on Monday and Tuesday, May 22 and 23.

Shakespeare was writing 400 years ago, before modern writing was all about relationships - it’s about moments between characters

In each production, just five actors take on the many roles involved in male-female pairings to bring additional ideas to every character.

A spokesman for Merely, which features 25-year-old former Arnold School student Emily Oldroyd under her stage name Emmy Rose, said: “Much has been made of the death of repertory theatre; doing multiple shows at once, working with the same actors, learning a huge breadth of parts, immersion in the classics, and stretching an actor’s range are just some of the advantages of which theatre luminaries have mourned the loss.

“Merely Theatre started as a way for a company of actors to work together discovering the best way to put on Shakespeare’s plays. Rep is not dead, it has evolved.”

Artistic director Scott Ellis said the company works without costumes and sets to ‘find the best ways to speak Shakespeare’s words’ - aiming to be the best in the country.

“We’ve done our best to recreate that same atmosphere and attitude from the old rep system,” he said. “The discipline and the technique, the focus. The commitment to making every time we’ve done it the best time we’ve done it.

“We put in the work, we sweat it hard, and out of that pressure cooker come some extraordinary things.

“It’s an exhilarating way to work. We are doing raw, pure Shakespeare, the kind people get swept up in and excited by.”

The company aims for 50/50 casting between male and female actors, then faces the challenge that, according to Emily, just 16 per cent of the 981 characters Shakespeare wrote were female.

“Shakespeare was writing 400 years ago, before modern writing was all about relationships - it’s about moments between characters,” Scott said.

“But that’s the same whether it’s two men or two women, or one man, one woman playing a scene.”