Golda Rosheuvel: It’s amazing to be a black gay actress playing a gay role
Hot on the heels of a gay production of Romeo and Juliet last summer, Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre is queering Shakespeare again, this time with a female Othello.
Liverpool Queer Collective’s Char Binns caught up with lead actor Golda Rosheuvel to find out more.
Golda Rosheuvel’s presence is immediately warm and animated. She gives me her undivided attention the whole time we talk, with the exception of taking a few bites of a jacket potato with baked beans, offering generous answers to my questions with real thought and depth. Unsurprisingly, her stage presence is every bit as commanding, with The Guardian describing her performance as the lead in Othello as “played with dignity and intelligence” whilst The Observer describes her as “tremendous”. Rosheuvel admits to feeling “joyful” and “blessed” for having this opportunity to play Othello and for the amazing response she has received. She considers the Everyman’s latest production to be “hopefully ground-breaking and life-changing”, confessing, “For me it has been life-changing and everything that I hoped it would be.”
Shakespeare offers many an opportunity for expressions of queerness, with gender swapping a plenty. Over recent years, increasing numbers of modern productions have cast female actors in the role of male characters. Yet this is the first lesbian Othello.
“It’s amazing to be a black gay actress playing a gay role,” smiles Rosheuvel. “Of course she’s a lesbian, but she’s a woman. I wonder why the headline isn’t Othello as a woman, but why it has to be Othello as an out lesbian. It’s a little strange as it’s not where I come from. I’m playing Othello as a woman and she happens to be married to a woman. [There is a] normality of playing Othello as a woman, and the rest of it just is.”
Whilst it would be wonderful to see Othello as a woman who loves a woman as “just the way it is”, the presence of gender and sexuality are constants to be dealt with throughout the play. Where villain Iago was once responding to racist jealousy, the Everyman’s production is also interlaced with misogyny and homophobia. As Rosheuvel explains, “It’s difficult with this play because Shakespeare is dealing with the Other, as in a black man. [Now, in this version] the lesbian is the Other. It adds to Iago’s fascination with Othello. It adds to his jealousy; two powerful women coming together and creating a unity, which he then demolishes.”
At 47, Rosheuvel says that this is only the second time in her career that she’s played a gay woman. When I ask if she’s seen any increase in opportunity or better representation of queerness in the arts she offers a gloomy response “No I don’t. My partner (Shireen Mula) is a writer and she struggles to get work seen. She writes gay work because that’s what she knows. But do we see gay plays or gay characters? I think it’s a shame. I think it’s about funding, maybe people being afraid to lose money if they invest in stories that are about the Other. It is very, very, very, very rare that I will play my casting bracket, which includes being gay.”
I suggest to Golda that even when queerness is present on stage and screen, it can still be a world away from the real lives of LGBTQ+ people. Given that (spoiler alert!) the play doesn’t end well for the same-sex couple, I wondered if she had any worries about perpetuating lesbian stereotypes through this performance. Without missing a heartbeat, Rosheuvel chimes in, “Oh I went straight there. Emily (Emily Hughes, who plays Desdemona) and I had a couple of coffee conversations because I was adamant that my lifestyle was going to be portrayed on stage and I wanted that to be as honest and as truthful as possible. I didn’t want it to be grotesque in any way; it needed to be loving, it needed to be believable. Emily is straight but we talked about it all. We talked about my relationship with my partner and the things she would do to calm me down, little things that we workshoped and tried.”
Rosheuvel continues, “I felt very, very strongly that my relationship, or what I perceive as a lesbian relationship, was real and authentic. And I really think that we have something beautiful, that there is real respect between two actors. And I’ve heard people say that it is genuine, that they really believe in our relationship and they’re very sorry that the men take it away from us at the end! But we can’t change the end.”
Alluding to the misogyny of the play, I wonder if given recent storms around representation and the position of women in the arts, has she noticed any changes for women in the industry? Are campaigns like #MeToo having a tangible effect or could they be just a trend? “I believe that it isn’t [just a trend]” asserts Rosheuvel, “It feels like there is a definite shift. I’m really proud of the women that have spoken up across the globe. The gates are open now, the doors have opened, we have opened the doors and we’re walking through.”
Othello directed by Gemma Bodinetz and starring Golda Rosheuvel is on at the Everyman Theatre from now until 10 July.