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Wednesday, 27 January, 1999, 17:58 GMT
Meet Mr Cleopatra
mark rylance
Mark Rylance said he is "choosy" about who plays his male lead
The man in charge of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London is prepared to do anything for his job - even if it means dressing up as Cleopatra for the venue's new season.

Actor-director Mark Rylance is playing the female lead in Antony and Cleopatra to ensure the historical authenticity of the production.

But the artistic director of the replica venue has apologised to the actresses worried about the lack of roles for them.

globe theatre
The Globe: 400 years since the first show at the original venue
"I am sorry it is going to take work from actresses this year. It doesn't seem very politically correct.

"I have been thinking about it a lot and I am hoping to find a way to give more roles to women in other ways."

Rylance will take the role of Egypt's tragic queen in Antony and Cleopatra at the Southwark theatre at in May.

Women were banned from the stage in Shakespeare's day, and female roles were played by boys. But, in the absence of any conclusive evidence, Rylance thinks grown men must have played more mature and powerful heroines such as Cleopatra and Lady Macbeth.

He added he wanted to convince audience through his voice and movement that he was really a woman - something that would not work if he was self-conscious or camp.

Yet the role of Antony has not yet been chosen. "I am choosy," he said.

helen mirren
Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman as Antony and Cleopatra at the National Theatre
"This will challenge the audiences to stretch their imagination. I want people to believe I love Antony like no one else has loved him, that I am jealous beyond measure of Octavia."

He said he imagined Dame Judi Dench would make a fitting Brutus, but said his production aimed for historical authenticity, not gender role reversal. Two other female roles will be taken by men.

Rylance added: "There are many more great classic actresses in British theatre than great actors. Zoe Wanamaker, Jane Lapotaire and Dame Judi Dench are all actresses of great power who haven't got the roles."

He believes the imbalance is because it is harder for actresses to forge lucrative careers in film and TV.

Both Helen Mirren and Cathy Tyson have played Cleopatra in London recently, while Frances de la Tour is about to.

Antony and Cleopatra is part of a Roman season at the Globe which marks the 400th anniversary of the first recorded performance at the original theatre. That first performance was of the play Julius Caesar on 21 September 1599.

Since its full opening in 1997, the rebuilt Globe has enjoyed attendance figures of 89%. Of the 421,000 playgoers who attended the open air performances, Rylance said he was proud 135,000 had paid 5 or less.

See also:

21 Oct 98 | Entertainment
Mirren's mature Cleopatra
28 Oct 98 | Middle East
Sphinx discovered in Egyptian port
29 Oct 98 | Middle East
Divers probe underwater palace
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