Christopher Eccleston in the RSC's 2018 version of Macbeth Twitter/TheRSC

Back in 2018, Christopher Eccleston wrote to the RSC and asked outright to be considered for the role of Macbeth. Claiming that his Salford accent had resulted in him being overlooked for roles in Shakespeare productions in the past, there is something only too familiar about Eccleston’s experiences and those in the Cambridge theatre scene and beyond.

Macbeth is a Scottish play, about a Scottish King, and yet I have never seen a production of it that features the titular character played by an actor with a Scottish accent. While this could very possibly boil down to my lack of culture (which is definitely more limited than I would care to admit!) I have a feeling it is also part of a larger problem.

For as long as Shakespeare, Chekov and Ibsen are considered the theatrical elite, we must strive towards abolishing the misconception that their roles are primarily designed for actors with received pronunciation. And don’t even get me started on David Tennant swapping his native Scottish accent for received pronunciation in his portrayal of Hamlet!

"Representation matters more than we realise, and the effects of its absence in theatre can be detrimental"

I recently saw a production of the RSC’s The Taming of the Shrew which saw the wry and comical character of Trania played by a woman who accentuated her generic northern accent as if to squeeze every last ounce of comedy out of each of her lines. She then proceeded to adopt received pronunciation upon disguising herself as Lucentia, coincidentally a university student. The link that this perpetuates between intellect and accent is something that is so deeply entrenched in our society that we almost hardly notice it.

Representation matters more than we realise, and the effects of its absence in theatre can be detrimental. The power of hearing someone speak just like you, be it on television or on stage, should not be underestimated. It feels like home. And yet the RP accent that is most normalised in these settings, the accent of most of our newsreaders, radio presenters and performers at The Globe, belongs to approximately 2% of the population. What message does this give to people whose accents are only utilised for comic value, or aren’t heard at all?

When watching The Footlights Spring Revue this year, my ears pricked up at the mention of my hometown, Leicester, during a sketch. Leicester was used as one of the punchlines and I laughed willingly along at what was undoubtedly a funny joke. I realised then how messed up it was that it had got to a point where I was happy to hear my hometown mentioned in a derogatory way, if it meant that it was being mentioned at all.

"I was happy to hear my hometown mentioned in a derogatory way, if it meant that it was being mentioned at all"

I began to think about the productions I have both watched and been a part of in Cambridge that have given voice to characters from diverse, regional backgrounds. In a recent production, while it was on one hand empowering to attempt a Yorkshire accent and adorn a pair of leopard print leggings on the ADC stage, it has the potential to become quite problematic when an audience comprised of mostly Southern, middle-class locals are simultaneously outraged and entertained by the foul-mouthed characters and shocking antics that take place before them; antics that ‘their sort’ would never degrade themselves enough to partake in. If this aspect of the production was seen in isolation, it has the potential to resemble an exhibit at the zoo more so than an example of empowering representation.


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Sometimes our stereotypes and humour can come from a place of self-knowledge, with elements of truth and self-recognition. But, if we ultimately want to stop doing an injustice to anybody that doesn’t speak like our renowned 2%, then we need representation that goes beyond the limitations of often ridiculous and exaggerated stereotypes and strive towards representation that is truthful and honest, representation that is so prevalent that you only realise halfway through that King Lear is being played by a Scouser, rather than this being the production’s biggest novelty selling point.

These people deserve their stories, their soliloquies and to have their voices heard. But, if the only stories, soliloquies and voices they are given are those which perpetuate the same ideas, we end up spending our lives trying to convince people that Northern representation is not in fact homogeneous with working class representation, in the same way that women in tight dresses and copious amounts of fake tan is not homogenous with the entirety of Essex. If we are only going to represent these people and their voices in one particular way, then we may as well not represent them at all.

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