All Frocked Up

Maid to Order


“I can quite easily think of opposites but it isn’t men and women.”

— Dame Rebecca West


Scene from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night,
Greystone Theatre. 1964
Viola in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night,
Greystone Theatre. 1964


Before the Restoration period female roles on the English stage — including all of Shakespeare’s great women characters — were played by boys or men. Since the acceptance of actresses, female impersonation has generally been restricted to comic roles in the Western theatre, where it is now an axiom that a man in a dress is always good for a laugh.


Minstrel play in Broadview, Sask. c.1920 Eight young women dressed
in theatrical costumes. c.1925


Comic turns in drag have appeared in many recent Saskatchewan stage productions, including Charley’s Aunt, Cinderella, Gigi, Saskatoon Pie!, and Ms. Purdy Parsimonias: A Rez Christmas, an ‘Indianized’ take on the Dickens classic.


Cast of Charley's Aunt, Greystone Theatre. 1994

“Its ancient jokes shouldn’t be so funny, the shameless coincidences that form its plot shouldn’t be so forgivable, and the mere sight of a man in a dress shouldn’t sustain a whole show. But they are, they do and he does.”

— Saskatoon Star Phoenix review of Charley's Aunt by Cam Fuller


In 1994 Saskatoon director Henry Woolf revived the time-honored theatrical tradition of pantomime with a production of Cinderella at the University of Saskatchewan’s Greystone Theatre.


Backstage at Cinderella,
Greystone Theatre. 1994
Backstage at Gigi,
Saskatoon Gateway Players. 1986
Backstage at Bent,
Greystone Theatre. 1995


Cast of Ms. Purdy Parsimonias,
Saskatchewan Native Theatre Company. 2002


Spectacular comic drag enlivens the final act of Geoffrey Ursell’s 1982 musical comedy Saskatoon Pie!  in which the whole cast performs a parody of a cross-dressed Victorian operetta entitled Magic Reversals.

“I hoped that, in the midst of all the laughter at Mayor Raker, Mr. Shrike, Mr. Ink, and Percy appearing in the operetta dressed as women, some questions about the nature of male and female roles, some questions about who has power and why, popped into the minds of the people watching.”

— Geoffrey Ursell


“Women's” costume designs
for Saskatoon Pie! 1999
“Men's” costume designs
for Saskatoon Pie! 1999


Final act of Saskatoon Pie! 1999 Backstage at Saskatoon Pie! 1999

“Magic Reversals (Magic Reversals)
Nothing is quite what it seems
(What it seems to be)
Magic Reversals (Magic Reversals)
It may look radical
But it's so classical
There's nothing tragical
It's really magical
Magical, magical, magical, magical
Magical, magical, Magic Reversals!!”

— Opening song of the operetta


Previous —  At the Empire  |  Next —  Amateur Hour