Less than a day after announcing its return with it's most controversial season yet, Pop-up Globe faces renewed criticism about using all-male casts and anger about referencing the #metoo campaign in its marketing.

The theatre company — now one of the world's most successful — this week announced it would be back in Auckland in November with four plays sharing the common thread of the abuse of power. The Taming of the Shrew and Richard III will be performed by an all-male company; Measure for Measure and Hamlet by a mixed gender cast.

Announcing the line-up, Pop-up Globe founder and artistic director Dr Miles Gregory said in the age of Weinstein, #metoo and #timesup, it feels "entirely right" for the company to reflect current conversations in the world through "ambitious and thought-provoking programming".

The company describes The Taming of the Shrew as Shakespeare's most proto-feminist play that also features his most misogynistic character and sees the fiercely independent Kate forced to become her husband's "perfect woman" through starvation and even torture.


But performers, theatre-makers and playwrights say they believe it's unacceptable to use in marketing campaigns #metoo and #timesup which are centred round women's response to rape and sexual harassment. They're angry The Taming of the Shrew is being called a feminist endeavour when it's to be performed by an all-male cast.

Lori Leigh, a senior lecturer at Victoria University's School of School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies, has written extensively about gender in Shakespeare's plays and previously questioned Pop-up Globe's need to exclusively cast men.

She told the Herald last year she would ask if the benefits of such casting outweighed the consequences. Leigh says she's not surprised at the latest casting decisions but disturbed by the appropriation of the #metoo and #timesup campaigns.

"I've read that the decision has been called 'bizarre' but it's more than bizarre, which makes it sound like it's uncanny or a little bit odd," she says. "I actually think it's unethical because these campaigns are about women who have been sexually assaulted and harassed and who have experienced pain and trauma.

"The campaigns are a political response to that and a male artistic director programming half a season with all-male casts appropriating this movement for marketing and other purposes, I think that's not only misleading, but hurting people."

Performer Penny Ashton vented her frustrations in an opinion piece for The Spinoff saying she was already angry at the continued use of all-male casts: "Women are banished yet again, leaving all those schoolgirls looking for some feisty realistic lady role models high and dry." She went on to say what really made "my blood boilth over" was using #metoo and #timeout.

"To use the sexual predation and assault of women as a pithy by-line is beyond vile. In one breath they call The Taming of the Shrew Shakespeare's proto-feminist piece, but then tell us that this feminism will be best delivered by an ALL-MALE cast. Guess we ladies might just get a bit angry, strident and shrill."

Playwright Pip Hall took to Facebook to ask how the #metoo movement could be used as a marketing strategy. Hall later told the Herald that what really irks is that Pop-up Globe has programmed the works to "explore the abuse of power".


"But isn't it an 'abuse of power' to leave women out of the mix? How can we genuinely explore this rich and timely theme and have honest and progressive conversations when the female voice is muted?

"The #metoo movement is about women taking back the power and shining a light on what is going on. So then to use this as a marketing strategy, while at the same time disempowering women by keeping them from the stage is unacceptable."

She says having been in the industry for 25 years she and most other women she knows have had at least one #metoo experience.

"So for us, the #metoo movement is our truth. To then use this to sell tickets, while shutting us out, is the very definition of abuse of power."

But Gregory says he is delighted that a 400 year old work has excited such debate.

"There's already a conversation happening that has been initiated by the announcement," he says. "The programme responds to the moment, excites debate, encourages conversation and stimulates argument."

He says before judging, people should see Pop-up Globe's The Taming of the Shrew to decide whether the company has made the right decision and whether it is a feminist interpretation.

"You never know with Pop-up Globe; last year we announced an all-male Henry V but there was a woman in the production. In the case of an all-male The Taming of the Shrew, we do believe the act of having men of stage performing a feminist reading of the play shows men supporting women."

He says since Pop-up Globe's inception — it launched in 2015 and performed its first season in 2016 — the company has had all-male casts, gender reversed productions and mixed companies.

"We will continue to make exciting, engaging and stimulating art just as we have done in the past. I also strongly support the right of artists to make the art they want to make and I hope more theatre is made as a result of this debate."

In a 2017 interview with the online Pantograph Punch, Gregory said prior to starting Pop-up Globe in 2015, he hadn't worked with all-male casts before and thought it was interesting to cast all-male because it "reveals otherwise unseen elements of the text, of his intentions, unknowable though they may be".

For its summer 2017/18 season, Pop-up Globe staged Julius Caesar with an all-female cast, the Pembroke Company, but said it wasn't to address the accusations of gender imbalance but because, thanks to phenomenal support for the theatre company, it could expand its productions.
It held a Tuesday afternoon panel discussion titled: All-male Shakespeare: Historically Accurate or Sexist.