Apparently “gender bending” Shakespeare is going to be Emma Rice’s thing. First she got us all talking about how Cymbeline should really be called Imogen, since she’s got most of the lines.
Now she wants to cast Helena as Helenus, a gay man.
Helena wasn’t exactly a role model for feminist ideals the way Shakespeare originally wrote her, what with that whole “use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me” thing. Now imagine just how homophobic this is going to make Demetrius look when there’s a man saying it? I suppose that they could also go with a more offensive stereotype and make some sort of sadomasochistic joke about it, too, just to throw that out there.
There’s also an obvious complication in that, for this to end up a happy ending, we need to decide whether this makes Demetrius gay as well? You can’t play him gay from the start because then he’d have no interest in marrying Hermia. Besies, since he’s the only one left under Oberon’s love potion, what exactly does that imply? (For more on this, check out Were The World Mine, which deals precisely with some of these issues.)
I don’t mind interesting new interpretation. I just wonder whether this lady is doing these things because she thinks they’re really good ideas, or if she’s just trying to see how many cages she can rattle.
Maybe next time she’ll set Merchant of Venice in Nazi Germany? That’d be a hoot, huh?