"We had this idea about doing an all-female Richard III because there's just no roles in Shakespeare for women that are this big," says Rachel Steed, Last Act Theatre's artistic director. "There are some big roles, but they're mostly in the romantic comedies. As far as the dramas go, you have Lady MacBeth and that's kind of the biggest one, and so we really wanted to do Richard III with a female Richard."
Once that decision was made, it snowballed a bit and the company eventually decided to use an all-female cast, and then an all-female cast and crew.
"We, in doing this, have discovered the depth of female talent in this town," says Steed. "The female talent is so deep and so broad but it's not utilized."
For this production, all the parts are played by women, but most of the characters' genders have remained unchanged. "Richmond and her army are the only characters in the play that we have re-gendered," says director Deb Streusand. "Richard is played as a man, Queen Margaret and the other women are played as women."
When she heard about this production, actor Amelia Turner jumped at the chance to audition for the title role in Richard III. "You don't, as a woman, get an opportunity to play something like that. So it feels right to be doing it right now," she says. "It's a beast, but... to be surrounded by the incredible talent that we do have, and under Deb's direction, it's doable," she adds, laughing.
If Richard is the anti-hero/villian of the play, Richmond is more straightforwardly heroic, and actor Chelsea Manasseri is happy to be portraying the character as a woman. "What I really like about the character is that I get to play the character as a woman," She says. "I really like the idea of this evil, tyrannical man who's in charge and then just this strong, take-no-nonsense woman coming in."
The idea behind this staging of Richard III goes back a year or so, says Steed. "We wanted a woman to stride out on the stage and say 'This is what I'm doing. This is what I'm plotting. And here's why. And we thought that that image by itself would be incredibly impactful no matter what the time, and then the political situation just fell into place where it happened to be timely as well."