Cassanova is to be played by the fabulous Hayley Carmichael, who, as the more observant of you will have noticed, is a woman. Look:
Now, this isn't just my favourite publicity shot of the year - there's a few key things that the company say that deserve drawing out, because they have implications for how we might make and watch theatre, for the portrayal of sexuality on stage, and for people who care about gender, power and representation within the theatre (the rest of you, stop reading now. I mean it. Now!)
Gardner reports that early versions of the play about the great lover, contained, unsurprisingly, a hell of a lot of sex. As the show developed the sex disapeared. This from the article:
"We actually copied some of the sex scenes from the Fellini movie," explains Carmichael. "But, bit by bit, the sex disappeared, because it looked ludicrous and because, even with me on top thrusting away with a man beneath me, I still somehow felt and looked like a victim."
Now, obviously there's nothing wrong with making a show that doesn't have lots of sex in it - plenty of people do that all the time - and it's certainly true that very often sex on stage looks ludicrous. I'm not in any way taking issue with the decisions that the company have made. What concerns me is that, even in a production which has obviously feminist undertones, overtones, and presumably every other kind of tone on display, a woman engaging in simulated sex onstage should make the performer feel and look like a victim, even when all the obvious signifiers seem to be pointing towards her being strong and in control. Again, from the article:
[Paul Hunter, the show's director] believes that there are very few situations in either the real or literary world "where women have the licence to behave like a Casanova without having to also deal with the judgment and censure that goes with that territory".
I find it odd that the two statements can sit so closely together with no connection made by either interviewer or -ees. I'm also puzzled by Gardner's assertion that the staging is such that "the matter of gender becomes completely irrelevant". It is hard to believe that if a man were on top thrusting away with a woman beneath him, he would feel and look like a victim. It is almost as though in the theatre here described there is a live version of the film camera's male gaze at work - perhaps an invisible lens in the space between audience and performer, and even between the performer and herself.
All of this makes it seem like the stage is an aggressively male gendered space, and maybe it is. Of course, in the real world we can't fix the effects of several thousand years of patriarchy in an instant, but the theatre isn't the real world - in's much better than that, and in the theatre space we can do whatever we damn well please. But in the theatre nothing is easy. Is it a theatrical problem or a broader cultural one which also manifests itself in the theatre? Are the structures of power inscibed into the theatres themselves or is it that they are etched into the psyches of audience and actor alike? What would a women's theatre look like?
i don't really have answers to these questions - so i was wondering if you guys have anything to throw into the ring...