Socialist Worker

Shakespearean roles turned on head in Queen Margaret

Gender roles and how they shape society are explored in an innovative new play set in the world of William Shakespeare’s plays, says Pat Clinton

Issue No. 2623

Queen Margaret (Jade Anouka) squares up to Henry VI, played by Max Runham

Queen Margaret (Jade Anouka) squares up to Henry VI, played by Max Runham (Pic: Johan Persson)


Queen Margaret is based on a new script combining the characters from several of William Shakespeare’s historical plays.

It focuses on the important but overlooked female characters.

The central character, Queen Margaret, has the most lines of any female Shakespearian character, appearing in three plays. But she is rarely who comes to mind if anyone is asked to name a woman in Shakespeare.

We still live in a time where gender plays a huge role in our cultural landscape.

Queen Margaret goes further than most modern reinterpretations. Not only does it focus on women, it also gender swaps some of the original male roles, while losing none of the drama.

Audiences are no longer content with seeing any actor play any role—there are calls for more care and attention to be paid to casting. In this production I was pleased to see Henry VI—who had severe health problems—played by a visibly disabled actor.

The play affirms why historical art still has a place in modern culture.

Our education system is built more around complex memory tests than comprehension. And even though all art is subjective and from the specific creator’s perspective, it can prompt discussion and thought.

Difficult

The man sat next to me was taking notes throughout the play.

During the interval I spoke to him and he said, “I always found history difficult to fully adsorb in school, so it’s useful to see it in a play instead”.

The writer, Jeanie O’Hare, talks in the programme about their motivations being based on gender.

However, it can be no mistake that the wider political themes in the play reflect ones we see today. You could sense the audience was quick to draw contemporary parallels.

There was a lot of almost overt comparisons. These range from “rebels” holding a looted TV, to Margaret feeling torn between her duties to England as queen and France as her country of birth.

There is much to enjoy in Queen Margaret, both for fans of Shakespeare and those not yet won over.

Queen Margaret Directed by Elizabeth Freestone.
At the Royal Exchange, Manchester, until 6 October
Go to bit.ly/QMargaret

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