LORD SEBASTIAN, AND MOPSA, THE SHEPHERDESS
‘Indicate your dream part(s) in The Winter’s Tale,’ said the audition form. I hesitated, put ‘Paulina’ (well who wouldn’t? It’s such a wonderful part!) followed, more realistically, by ‘any of the Sicilian lords or Bohemians’. I hadn’t twigged the significance of the plural (s), and was surprised but delighted to find myself chosen to play two parts: Lord Sebastian, one of King Leontes’ courtiers, and Mopsa, a shepherdess in the pastoral Bohemian scenes. So began my double-life in Wivenhoe Open Air Shakespeare!
WOAS has always had flexibility around gender casting – not (just) because we are woke, but because there are far fewer women’s roles in Shakespeare’s plays than women in our group. This brings great opportunities: to change the gender of some roles (we have a wonderful Camilla rather than Camillo) or to have a go at playing a male part. But acting two very different male and female roles brings its own set of worries. Will pompous Lord Sebastian accidentally burst into a bawdy Bohemian ballad, or flirt simperingly with Lady Giulia? Will Mopsa remember to be out-going and lively and not find herself frozen ceremoniously to the spot while channelling Penny Mordaunt at the Coronation? Let’s hope I can keep them separate in my head!
The real joy of playing these two parts is being part of almost every scene in the play. The Winter’s Tale has been conceived as an ensemble piece, and playing both a Sicilian and a Bohemian means I get to witness both the horrifying and moving trial of Hermione and the light-hearted singing and dancing of the sheep-shearing party. Every night I will get to experience, alongside the audience, the high drama and emotion of this beautiful play. We’re both going to enjoy this very much!
by Diane Spivey