The King’s Many Bodies: Fiona Shaw’s Richard II (1995–96)



“They don’t come more dangerous or daring than this,” wrote critic Carole Woddis about Deborah Warner’s production of Richard II at the Royal National Theatre (Glasgow Herald, June 6, 1995). The “dangerous” element was the casting of Irish actress Fiona Shaw in the title role, and her “daring” performance produced a mixed critical response. While some reviewers responded rapturously, many demonstrated overt hostility to a woman playing a male Shakespearean role. Andrew Temple, writing in the Independent (May 21, 1995), complained, “A female Richard II is the sort of thing you might expect to see at the end of term in a boarding school but there is no history of the part being played by a woman professionally.… It is gimmick casting.” Jack Tinker, in a review for the Daily Mail titled “Fiona’s King is a Drag” (June 16, 1995), dismissed her performance as having mere “curiosity value.” And Julie Burchill, in a piece for the Sunday Times (June 11, 1995), used the production as an opportunity to lampoon what she termed “Third Sexers”: “It has become an acceptable liberal line in recent years that anything which ‘crosses the gender boundary’ is a Good Thing.… This includes transvestites, transsexuals … and now ‘Third Sexers.’ As if two hadn’t caused enough trouble!”


National Identity Audience Member Performance Tradition Daily Telegraph British Press 
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© Elizabeth Klett 2009

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