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Women will play Prospero, Julius Caesar, Cassius at Stratford in 2018

Actress Seana McKenna will take on the title role of Julius Caesar in a Stratford production.

Clay Stang

The Stratford Festival's 66th season will be the first in its history to feature women in a number of major Shakespearean roles – from Julius Caesar to Prospero in The Tempest.

The Stratford, Ont., repertory company had already divulged that Martha Henry, who began her career at Stratford playing Prospero's daughter Miranda in 1962, was to take on the role of Prospero in 2018, but a casting announcement released Tuesday reveals that the stage legend is only one of a significant number of female actors taking on parts traditionally played by male actors next year.

"It's part of a broader initiative to continue to diversify our approach to casting," says Stratford Festival artistic director Antoni Cimolino.

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Long-time Festival star Seana McKenna – who has previously played both Richard III and Jaques at Stratford, and is soon set to take on Lear for the Groundling Theatre Company in Toronto – will take on the title role of Julius Caesar in a production of the Roman tragedy that will also feature veteran actors Michelle Giroux as Marc Antony and Irene Poole as Cassius. (Jonathan Goad, Stratford's most recent Hamlet, is set to play Brutus.)

The Comedy of Errors, meanwhile, is also set to take a particularly playful approach to gender in a production helmed by Keira Loughran that will see the comedy's pairs of identical twins played by an impossible mix of men and women. Beryl Bain and Josue Laboucane will be the Dromios, while Jessica B. Hill and Qasim Khan will be the Antipholi in the already absurd Shakespearean play.

Cimolino says each of the directors of these productions has taken their own approach to casting women in parts written as men. He, for instance, is re-envisioning Prospero as the deposed Duchess (instead of Duke) of Milan – and will use the play to reflect on the fate of women who lead, while director Scott Wentworth is taking a more gender-blind approach to his production of Julius Caesar.

The fourth Shakespeare production at the Stratford Festival in 2018 will take a "traditional" approach to casting (although all roles in Shakespeare, whether male or female, were originally played by men or boys in the playwright's time) – and sees two male actors who recently starred at the Shaw Festival returning to the Stratford fold.

André Sills, straight off his acclaimed turn in An Octoroon in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., will take on the title role in Robert Lepage's production of Coriolanus – the internationally acclaimed Quebec director's first production for the Stratford Festival. Tom McCamus, who just played the title character in The Madness of George III at Shaw, will play Menenius Agrippa.

The cast Lepage has assembled for his much-anticipated production is full of heavy hitters – including Graham Abbey as Tullus Aufidius, Michael Blake as Cominius, Stephen Ouimette as Junius Brutus, Lucy Peacock as Volumnia and Tom Rooney as Sicinius Velutus.

The Stratford Festival revealed casting for all 12 of its 2018 productions on Tuesday – not just Shakespeare. Notably, Dora Award-winning actor Daren A. Herbert will make his Stratford debut playing Harold Hill in The Music Man. Danielle Wade, winner of CBC's Over the Rainbow contest to cast a production of The Wizard of Oz, will make hers alongside him as Marian the Librarian. Meanwhile, Dan Chameroy – currently on stage in the acclaimed, extended production of Stratford native Britta Johnson's musical Life After at Canadian Stage in Toronto – will return after five seasons away to play Dr. Frank N. Furter in Donna Feore's production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Jennifer Rider-Shaw will play Janet, while Sayer Roberts will be Brad.

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For information on further casting for the 2018 Stratford season, visit stratfordfestival.ca.

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Theatre critic

J. Kelly Nestruck is The Globe's theatre critic. More

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