Reversing the tradition of the boy player

Andrea Smith

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


While in Shakespeare’s day, boy actors played the female parts, it was the other way around in twentieth-century radio: women played the boys. From Denise Bryer as Young Marcius in a 1940s Coriolanus to Nina Wadia as the Page in 2 Henry IV in the 1990s, the BBC has a long history of this form of casting. It is also a partially hidden history: Bryer was often billed under a boy’s name so the audience would be less likely to realise the character was not being played by a genuine child. This paper looks at the techniques used by women to create the voice of a child, and how convincing they might have been. It will also compare female performances in boys’ roles with more recent productions where genuine children have been used and, by doing so, investigate what is gained and what is lost by casting adult women as young boys. This unacknowledged tradition of acting has taken place for generations without anyone really noticing it in an organisation where cross-gender casting in adult roles is almost non-existent. This essay will reclaim these roles for the women who played them.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jun 2022
EventBritgrad - Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon
Duration: 23 Jun 202225 Jun 2022


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