Poster for the Polish release of 'Cabaret' (1972)TWITTER/(@WRYCRITIC)

Recently my Instagram feed was filled with adverts for Cabaret, to be performed at the Playhouse Theatre in London this November and I was excited! One of my favourite musicals, filled with queer decadence, representing the high point of Weimar Germany’s artistic and sexual freedoms, and now I may be able to see it live!

So, after seeing these adverts, I looked at the casting for the upcoming production. All publicity proudly proclaimed the star would be Eddie Redmayne. When I saw this, I assumed Redmayne would play Cliff. Indeed, Cliff is not far from the character of Newt Scamander, Redmayne’s character in the Fantastic Beasts film series; both are nervous, highly-strung academics, thrust into a foreign land.

It was odd, though, for Cliff to be highlighted in such a way. There’s a long tradition of having Emcee and Sally be the key roles; Joel Grey and Liza Minelli, Alan Cummings and Emma Stone. So I did some research to find Redmayne was playing the Emcee. I immediately knew I would not be seeing the production.

There have been many conversations recently about casting in Cambridge theatre – ensuring that casts are racially diverse and casting is inclusive of all genders. Redmayne’s career stands as an example of many of these problems writ large.

Redmayne comes from the upper echelon of British society, attending Eton with Prince William, going on to study at Cambridge’s own Trinity College and becoming a member of the notorious Pitt Club. Trained in acting and singing from age ten, it’s not surprising that Redmayne has had a successful career – his breakout role for many being the part of Marius in the 2012 film of Les Miserables, though he has been active on stage and screen since 1998. In 2014 he married, and since then has had two children. Since Les Mis, he has had a number of notable roles, but I would like to draw attention to two of them in particular.

Firstly, in 2014 he played the late Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. The film was widely acclaimed and earned Redmayne an Oscar, but not without criticism from disabled people. Redmayne is able-bodied and the film has several moments which feel like they are pandering to able-bodied audience’s fears about disability. It is generally respected that representation for women and ethnic minority people on stage and screen is important, and to allow white people to take the roles of ethnic minority people, to allow men to take the roles of women, would be unacceptable in casting today. And yet, it is common, often celebrated and rewarded, to see able-bodied and neurotypical people put on the costume of disability. In some circumstances, such as The Theory of Everything where the actor would need to portray Hawking before and after his ALS developed, it is easier to cast an able-bodied person, but this wouldn’t be Redmayne’s first foray into dicey casting.

“It needs to be told by people to whom it is authentic [...] a trans performer”

A year later, Redmayne would be cast as Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl. Elbe was a Danish painter, living in Copenhagen around the turn of the 20th century with her wife. In the 1920s Elbe began the process of coming out as a woman, adopting Lili as her new name, and would pose as a model for many of her wife’s paintings. She would become one of the first trans women in the world to undergo gender confirmation surgery, and only the second ever to have a uterus implanted, though would die shortly after due to complications. Eddie Redmayne is a cis man. His portrayal of Lili Elbe would earn him an Oscar nomination. For best actor. The film’s treatment of its subject matter was not regarded as good by any trans people, being criticised as a “hyperbolisation of femininity” and ultimately by casting a man and not a transgender woman to play Elbe, the film presents trans women as ultimately ‘men in dresses’ – every trans woman’s worst fear about herself. The story of Elbe does need to be told, but it needs to be told by people to whom it is authentic – by a trans director and a trans performer.

Since The Danish Girl, Redmayne has appeared to largely stay away from controversial castings. When Redmayne was first cast as Newt Scamander in 2016, though there was some sense that JK Rowling generally did a poor job at representation in her intellectual property, she was not regarded as heinous as she is now. In the time between then and now, however, Rowling has begun to espouse ever more transphobic sentiments from her Twitter account, and is generally seen as a figurehead of the ‘Gender Critical’ movement, which seeks to remove all trans women from women-only spaces – characterising trans women as perverted men and pedophiles, and trans men as women led away and damaged by the ‘trans agenda’. These sentiments are obviously disgusting, and hold no place in a progressive society. Rowling has received much criticism for it, including from actors involved in the Harry Potter franchise. Not Redmayne, though. He has stood by Rowling, criticising the backlash to her transphobia, perhaps because he has an interest in making sure her work continues to be popular, with the third Fantastic Beasts film slated for release in 2022. Redmayne says he does not agree with the author’s views, but in standing by her, he is demonstrating that he is not an ally to the queer community in even the most superficial way . He is actively upholding the platform of a transphobe who seeks to strip trans people of their ability to exist freely.

“Redmayne is stepping in to play a queer stereotype, again”

And so Redmayne is cast as the Emcee in the 2021 production of Cabaret, in a theatre scene devastated by Covid, where hundreds, if not thousands of queer artists and performers have been out of work for well over a year. Redmayne is stepping in to play a queer stereotype, again, while standing alongside someone who would likely much rather the kind of gender-bending queer performer exemplified by the Emcee did not exist. It’s not like the UK is short on notable queer performers, with the recent success of RuPaul’s Drag Race, there are now more well known queer performers than ever in the UK. Can anyone claim honestly that Eddie Redmayne would play the Emcee better than, say, Bimini Bon-Boulash?

'hyperbolisation of femininity': Redmayne in The Danish Girl (2015)Twitter/(@yourmilsinnit)

Do I know for certain that Redmayne is cisgender and heterosexual? No. But I think the reality of his identity behind closed doors means nothing if in public he functions within the role of a cishet man, married to a woman, who is able to work with transphobes, should he wish.


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And so a show, which has grown through the erasure of queer and Jewish identities for a mainstream audience, meets a career based on donning the attributes of minorities like a costume, while in reality doing nothing to support those marginalised people. Of course, there will be business motives behind this casting, an attempt to justify the ticket price – the cheapest tickets currently selling at £70, though most being between £90 and £150, the November shows already almost sold out of even £230+ tickets.

As the Emcee says, “Money makes the world go round.”