That's what she said

22 March 2016

by Kate Wyver

They cum at the same time, they share bedtime story duty and they share swanky suits. Mark Ravenhill’s political drama Over There focuses on a pair of identical twin brothers reunited after the fall of the Berlin Wall, but director Josie Davies has chosen to cast gender-blind with Bryony Davies and Samuel Wightman playing the twins.

The casting is not made a fuss of in the play, nor is it there to make a point about the text. Instead it raises questions of how flexible directors can be with writers' decisions and whether we should be embracing more gender-blind casting in order to lessen male dominance in plays.

Wightman says they want to encourage “the idea that you can replace a character or substitute the gender of a character without that being at the forefront of the discourse”. He adds that people should be able to suspend their disbelief in the same way that they would with any other aspect of the play. As they’re on a bare stage and asking the audience to imagine everything else, Bryony says it’s about trusting the audience, “not patronising them”.

Society is gradually accepting gender as less binary and in general, Josie suggests, fixed gender seems to be becoming “less important in theatre”. This comes at a time when the Globe is aiming to get a 50/50 gender balance on stage under new director Emma Rice. “I think it just takes a change of mindset,” says Rice in an interview with the Guardian. Josie argues that often by casting non-literally you encourage other elements of the character to come through and Rice agrees, saying that it “pops the language, it makes you reframe it”. Josie adds: “I think gender-blind casting in a lot of contexts should be encouraged because in British theatre tradition there are so many plays that have predominantly male characters.”

Of course, Bryony says, “it gets more complicated when it’s a play specifically about gender”. But Josie notes that when you make the decision to not cast literal identical twins, “to some extent the appearance becomes irrelevant”. The reception to the casting has been mixed, with most seeing past the genders of the characters, but Bryony says, “I’ve spoken to a couple of people who have said they had to work through the gender blind casting to understand it and accept it.” Sam notes that it takes time as an audience member to assess the tone and style of the play. “You’ve got to give them a bit of time to acclimatise to the rules you’re following, and see the difference between presentation and representation.”

Bryony talks about her character as if the gender makes no difference. “Like you would approach any character, it’s about the emotions of the character, what the character wants.” The blind casting almost follows through to create blind gender, as Bryony notes, “I don’t play the man.” Josie concludes, “I think that’s the answer. You don’t play gender, you play character.” 

Photo credit: Giulia Delprato