I’m worried about those lanky beanpole theatre reviewers at The Telegraph.
Anthony & Cleopatra, Royal Shakespeare Company, 2013 (LINK to my review)
Charles Spencer said in a one star review that verged on spiteful:
Not for the first time the actors playing Antony and Cleopatra seem bizarrely mismatched. Jonathan Cake, who I always think of as Jonathan Beefcake because of the rippling musculature which he so often seems touchingly anxious to show off, is very tall. In contrast his American Cleopatra, Joaquina Kalukango, is very short. It’s the little and large show, and more comic than sexy as Cake stoops to talk to his beloved.
As I’m 6 foot two and my wife is 5 foot, I find it all perfectly normal. I don’t think I’ve ever disagreed with Mr Spencer, whose reviews I admire, more. Look at the photo. What’s the problem? Writing on rock music recently, I’ve been watching several female singers on YouTube: P.P. Arnold., Lulu, (LINKS to Toppermost website) Brenda Lee, Ronnie Spector, Blondie. All are “very short” in Mr Spencer’s terms. It does not detract from their attractiveness one iota.
Then we get Tim Walker on the National Theatre’s current King Lear in Telegraph Seven:
I am conscious that these words are measured, but then so too, is Russell Beale, at just a little over five feet tall. I don’t like to draw attention to physical characteristics of an actor – God knows there is nothing much they can do about it – but this actor hardly has the imposing bearing of (X and Y) … Russell Beale is a Captain Mainwaring-ish ruler: he is roly poly rather than regal …
This is bizarre and obsessive sizeism. For a start Mr Russell-Beale’s height is given as 5’6” on IMDB, not tall indeed, but hardly “a little over five feet tall.” I’ve seen him on stage three times in a year, and with people standing next to him in The Hot House, Timon of Athens and Privates on Parade, and he never appeared around the five foot mark to me (my wife is five foot exactly). My guess before checking the IMDB was 5’5” to 5’7”, which was pretty good.
The Hot House
Why “regality” is measured in inches also puzzles me. Queen Elizabeth II? Queen Victoria? Has the writer never heard of the Napoleon complex? Hitler was another man of below average height, but it unfortunately did not signal lack of political power. I’ve ranted about this before. The first edition of Johnny Rogan’s biography of Van Morrison mentioned his stature and girth time after time. Why harp on about it? Singers with big voices develop large stomachs. It’s their powerhouse.
I rarely defend PC concepts, but I think the Telegraph writers and their editor would benefit from a short lecture on sizeism.
Bob Spiers, who directed our Grapevine One video had long discussions with me on actors’ physical looks. He said the writer might picture a tall blonde, but if you choose the right actor, a small brunette will do the part equally well. Don’t have preconceptions on what the actor looks like. It may help you write to have a mental picture, but unless it’s essential to the story, don’t predicate what the actor looks like, which means don’t mention it in the script unless it’s important. Shakespeare wrote Hermia as shorter than Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but I don’t Shakespeare remarking on the height of Cleopatra nor King Lear. If you want to reference appearance in a script, do it in brackets to indicate it’s changeable: You’ve got great (blonde / dark / red) hair.
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