'There's No Hope Unless We Put Social Justice on Our Stages' THEATRE Michelle Terry, Artistic Director of Shakespeare's Globe, Is on a Mission to Diversify the Decision-Makers Behind the Scenes, She Tells Nick Curtis

The Evening Standard (London, England), July 11, 2019 | Go to article overview

'There's No Hope Unless We Put Social Justice on Our Stages' THEATRE Michelle Terry, Artistic Director of Shakespeare's Globe, Is on a Mission to Diversify the Decision-Makers Behind the Scenes, She Tells Nick Curtis


IMPISHLY, fierily charismatic onstage at Shakespeare's Globe as Rosalind and Lady Macbeth, Hamlet and Hotspur Michelle Terry is strikingly sober and serious as she unveils plans for the winter season in the venue's indoor, candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Titled She Wolves and Shrews, the new tranche of shows follows through themes and ideas that Terry has pursued since she became the venue's fourth artistic director in 2018 after the unseemly removal of Emma Rice and its second actor-manager after founding director Mark Rylance.

"Whereas outdoors [the Globe's openair main stage] is such an epic, mythic space, there is something divinely feminine about the SWP," says Terry, 40. "So that's the prism through which we're offering to look at the world now."

Henry VI and Richard III will round off the cycle of Shakespeare's histories begun in spring with an all-female Richard II and continued with the summer trilogy of Henry IV parts I and II and Henry V.

The three parts of Henry VI have been edited into a single play by Terry's associate director, Sean Holmes, and his co-director Ilinca Radulian. "When you distil it down, there's some amazing stuff in there, and you get a very domestic version of the plays," Terry says. In this and in Richard III, Holmes and Radulian will examine the pivotal role of Margaret of Anjou, "the she-wolf of France".

Richard will be played by a woman, but not by Terry. She will be in the cast of another production, The Taming of the Shrew, but does not yet know which part she'll play: casting will be decided in rehearsals by director Maria Gaitanidi, a devotee of Stanislavskian "method" acting. This will run in repertory with Thomas Middleton's Women Beware Women, directed by Headlong's Amy Hodge. There will be a new play, Swive, by Ella Hickson, the always-interesting author of The Writer, and Anna, directed by the estimable Natalie Abrahami. Examining Elizabeth I, it was sparked by a single idea: "If your power is wrapped up with your beauty, what happens when that beauty starts to fade?" There will also be a Yuletide show, Christmas at the (snow) Globe by Sandi Toksvig and her sister Jenifer: "The premise, unless they've changed their mind, is that Puck has stolen Christmas and we spend the play reclaiming it."

Though it might have looked in her early seasons as if Terry was an actormanager in the Olivier mould, swiping the plum roles of Hamlet and Hotspur, the surrender to Gaitanidi's casting decisions and to the inspiration of Hickson and Toksvig accords with her desire to deconstruct the top-down hierarchy of theatre.

As an actor she regularly felt disempowered, but she knew what it felt like to perform on the Globe stage in the way a director could not. Yet she felt the need to appoint Holmes, formerly in charge of the Lyric Hammersmith, to complement her skills: "It's about having practitioners embedded in the organisation."

Though she wants to "diversify the decision-makers" behind the scenes, her policies will naturally be most visible onstage. The season will feature a smallish ensemble with a 50:50 gender split (a commitment Terry inherited from Rice) that will be more representative in terms of ethnicity, socio-economic background and disability. "In its simplest form that's social justice, and if we're not practising that or attempting that on our stages, then there's no hope really," says Terry.

Roles will continue to be cast genderblind, despite a backlash from some critics. "This is a conversation that's been going on for a long time," she sighs. …

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