Glenda Jackson is a man in drag

Glenda JacksonBack in my youth I had my suspicions. In those days Miss Jackson insisted on being filmed in the buff, the general assumption being that her exhibitionism served artistic ends.

Well, it certainly wasn’t for titillation, for I doubt that a commercially valid number of viewers would have been titillated by the sight of Miss Jackson’s bare breasts. My suspicion was then, as it is now, that she was trying to show off her female fixtures to prove she wasn’t actually a transsexual. Methinks the lady doth protest too much, I thought in a characteristically unoriginal way.

In 1992, in her mid-40s, Miss Jackson sought an alternative career, what with even the limited interest in her nudity dwindling away. She then became a Labour MP for Hampstead, the London haven for lefties and assorted perverts (just walk through Hampstead Heath at night to see what I mean).

During her parliamentary career she was upholding the rights of every sexual minority with such ardour that it was hard not to notice a personal interest. Of course it’s possible for a Hampstead leftie to champion the cause of every possible aberration in a disinterested fashion, but Miss Jackson’s enthusiasm reinforced my suspicion that she was actually a man in drag.

The suspicion has now become a certainty. For Miss Jackson is resuming her theatrical career – in the role of King Lear at the Old Vic. The cat’s out of the bag, ladies and gentlemen: the lady is a man.

Otherwise it would be hard to understand why the director would overlook a regiment of fine male actors, of whom England is so justly proud, to indulge in this bit of transvestism.

In fact, one interviewer expressed his surprise at this casting choice when talking to the director, Deborah Warner. Her reply showed how deeply she had immersed herself in the fine cadences of Shakespeare’s prose:

“I think she’s playing Lear, full stop. He or she who takes the words into their mouth of any Shakespearian character becomes the character. Boom. Done.”

Obviously it’s impossible to peruse the works of our greatest writer without falling under the spell of his language. Here one hears the echoes of As You Like It: “And one man/woman/other in their time plays many parts. Caboom.” Or perhaps Much Ado About Nothing: “Everyone can master their grief but he/she that has it. Boom. Done.”

Explaining why Miss Warner, she of fine linguistic sensibilities, has chosen to cast a woman in one of the greatest roles of the male repertoire is easy enough. She obviously sees this as a money-spinning gimmick, and more power to her.

Why Miss Jackson has decided to take on the role is harder to understand, unless she wishes to play it for laughs. But apparently not: she sees the opportunity in the political context of radical feminism, thereby bringing together both strands of her career.

Specifically, she’s deeply hurt by the lack of great roles for women. “If you’re talented as a man [I would have been tempted to say ‘if you’re a talented man’ – ‘talented as a man’ has a slightly different connotation, but hey: what does one expect from an actress/politician], you can go all the way from Hamlet to Lear… There’s no equivalent for women.”

I don’t know, some actresses may regard as sufficiently interesting such roles as Lady Macbeth, Gertrude or perhaps even Cordelia. But those walk-ons are clearly beneath the Labour MP from Hampstead, as are countless roles in Ibsen or Chekhov.

She graciously acknowledges that “There are major roles for women in Greek drama, but they tend always to be tragic and they’re always losers.” Evidently that’s why Miss Jackson has chosen to play that famous slapstick winner King Lear, with nary a tragic note in sight.

I’m sad to see our theatre going the way of our music, into the putrid morass of perverse commercialism. We’re used to broad ethnic jokes like Lang Lang reducing the greatest achievements of Western culture to meaningless anti-musical twaddle. But at least we had the theatre…

Our culture, be it drama or music, has been created by some of the greatest men in history. Obviously no performer can be an equal of Bach or Beethoven, nor a director or actor a complete match for the genius of Sophocles or Shakespeare.

But at least in the past we could count on interpretations evincing appropriate piety for the towering cultural figures and their sublime creations. That has now been replaced by bone-crushing vulgarity and ignorant disdain for anything today’s puny minds can’t comprehend.

Then again, madness isn’t the only distinguishing feature of modernity. Vulgarity is right up there too. Boom. Done.

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