Shakespeare: innovative and gender-blind


By Jamie Murphy, 6.2, Drama Don

On Tuesday 21 February the Bedales Olivier Theatre was visited by Merely Theatre’s production of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

The company’s focus was on producing a ‘stripped-back’ Shakespeare where the text, as well as the relationship between performer and audience, is at the heart of every performance. With a sparse set and almost uniform costumes, the production focussed on Shakespeare’s writing and gave the actors room to experiment and pay close attention to the subtext of their lines. The themes of identity in Romeo and Juliet were explored by Merely Theatre through their use of gender-blind casting.

Juliet declares that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”; just as Shakespeare seemed to reject the importance of traditional identities and labels, Merely Theatre reject the significance of gender in representing character. All of the actors playing at least one role that wasn’t their assigned gender not only lent the production a sense of innovation, it also allowed for new interpretations of the narrative. For example, both Romeo and Juliet being played by men created a new layer to their forbidden love.

Merely Theatre’s production proved that Shakespeare can still be relevant to contemporary issues, and utilised a minimalist approach to create an engaging and intellectually accessible piece of theatre.

Book now for Petersfield Shakespeare Festival

Have you got your tickets yet for the Petersfield Shakespeare Festival at Bedales? If not, visit or phone 01730 711599 to avoid disappointment. The Merry Wives will kick-off the festival at the Sotherington Outdoor Theatre from the 14-19 July, followed by Macbeth from 21-26 July. The performances will feature West End actors and local favourites, including Old Bedalians. Ste Johnston will return in triumph after his performance last year as Bottom, as Shakespeare’s fattest and naughtiest knight, Sir John Falstaff, who boozes and bounds his way through the bedrooms and bars of the English countryside. Bring your picnic, or order a gourmet pizza from The Cricketers, sit back and be entertained.

Portrait Photographer


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.