It was only last year that Alexandra Schepisi commented on how many female actors "get stuck with the lame, two-dimensional, boring roles". It’s a common frustration, and one that the MTC’s new offering goes some way to redressing.
Initially Schepisi was drawn to the production by its stellar cast (Robyn Nevin plays the title role) and the prospect of playing Lear’s youngest daughter, Cordelia, which challenges that tendency for women to get stuck with dud characters. "There is much to learn about her and to bring to the role," she says.
Queen Lear is a study in filial love, betrayal and family power-play. They’re all themes that might be familiar from Schepisi’s recent turn alongside Charlotte Rampling’s dying matriarch in The Eye of the Storm.
The play requires actors to dig deep into their own family relationships. "Your love for your family, especially your parents, is paramount to who you are. Losing a parent or the love or trust of your parent is devastating."
Notwithstanding the appeal of Cordelia’s role, Schepisi began to think that there was another part which that she was also interested in. "When I was reading the play for the role of Cordelia a little voice inside me was saying. 'Hmm… I like the role of the Fool. Maybe I should go for that role.'" She ended up with both parts.
It’s a casting double-flip which fits well with director Rachel McDonald’s project of staging Lear as though it was originally written for a woman.
Last year Helen Mirren played Prospera in Julie Taymor's film adaptation of The Tempest. Perhaps there is a trend in male-to-female Shakespeare adaptations afoot? If so, it’s about time, says Schepisi: "They spent years in England with boys playing the female roles, so I think it's our turn."
Queen Lear, Melbourne Theatre Company, 17 Jul-18 Aug 2012.
Sign up to our monthly arts newsletter