The UK’s first all-female Shakespearean company heads out on its first national tour this autumn with support from Greenwich Theatre
Smooth Faced Gentlemen, formed in 2012 and based in Clapham, were spotted two years ago by James Haddrell, Greenwich Theatre’s artistic and executive director, when they performed Titus Andronicus at the Edinburgh Fringe. Catch their ground-breaking production, Shakespeare Shuffle (30-31 January), followed by Titus Andronicus (28 April-2 May), before they head off on tour.
‘I was knocked out by them [at the Edinburgh Fringe],’ said James. ‘We’ve got to know each other over the last year or so and they have started 2015 by becoming one of our supported companies.
‘Less than 16% of Shakespeare’s characters are women and women speak only 6% of his lines, despite the presence of some really powerful characters like Lady Macbeth, Juliet and King Lear’s daughters. We may have moved on in allowing women on stage, unlike the theatre of Shakespeare’s time when the female characters were played by men, but there is still a huge disparity in opportunities for men and women to perform Shakespeare because of that imbalance in the writing.
‘What this company is doing is not chipping away at a gender issue like a novelty act but creating the opportunity for audiences to see the plays in a new way. Titus Andronicus is about an angry, tortured man but having the part played by a woman makes you listen to the words even more closely and keenly.
For Shakespeare Shuffle, each of Macbeth’s five acts will be performed by Smooth Faced Gentlemen and three other London companies – The Handlebards, The Merely Players and one to come – with their own take on how to do Shakespeare. ‘We’ve got act three with the murder, ghosts and fights, and act five is up for grabs,’ said artistic director Ashlea Kaye. ‘We’ll be performing in totally different ways and people can decide which they like best. The important thing is getting Shakespeare out there.’
The idea for Smooth Faced Gentlemen came during a brainstorming night in a pub for Ashlea, producer Yaz Al-Shaater and three actor friends. ‘Two of them were men. They’re still very much involved but we don’t let them on stage!’ said Ashlea. One of them, Yaz, is helping to produce Shakespeare Shuffle. He said: “That night in the pub came after we had seen the RSC’s version of King John. The bastard, normally a male part, was played by a woman and that, plus complaints that there were too many all-male companies and too few female parts, got us going. We thought: don’t complain about it, do something.’
Rather than just produce a one-off all-female performance, the group decided to start Smooth Faced Gentlemen. ‘The next morning we did some research and found there weren’t any in the UK, so we saw a gap in the market and gave it a bash.’
Shakespeare Shuffle plays on Friday 30 January and Saturday 31 January at 7.30pm. Tickets are £13.50 (concs £11). Titus Andronicus plays from Tuesday 28 April until Saturday 2 May. Tickets are £16 (concs £13.50). All prices include £1 booking fee.
Greenwich Theatre, Crooms Hill SE10 8ES; 020 8858 7755. Call the box office on 020 8858 7755 or see greenwichtheatre.org.uk