Lucy Phelps grew up in Worcester and Malvern, and now she’s a star on the stage of the RSC, playing roles that challenge the boundaries and restrictions of gender.

Lucy, who went to St Mary’s School in Worcester, is currently playing the cross-dressing Rosalind in As You Like It, and she will soon play the lead role of Isabella in Measure for Measure, which runs between June 28 and August 29.

Would-be nun Isabella, of course, famously decides to preserve her chastity rather than save her brother’s life, when given the choice.

Lucy took time out to discuss these roles with the Worcester News.

So how did Shakespeare test the boundaries with the character of Rosalind?

Lucy said: “It is incredible to think Shakespeare was laying these gender debates on the table all those years ago and that we are still having to have these conversations now. To me, Rosalind finds both the ‘male’ and ‘female’ inside of her through her experiences in the forest and finally allows herself to become who she wants to be, her best self, a wonderful hodge podge of everything!

“She asks us to redefine our preconceptions of what it means to be male or female and she refuses to be defined. She highlights the ridiculous expectations placed on both genders by society and asks why we make these boxes for ourselves that reduce us to one thing? She wants to be loved for her spirit, for her mind and not her gender. That’s a surprisingly modern debate for a play written in 1604.”

Lucy added: “These plays are over 400 years old and are a product of their time. If we don’t find new ways to explore them, to make them speak to a contemporary audience, I’m not sure how they will survive. For Shakespeare’s audiences these were modern plays, reflecting their modern society, and they challenged the status quo. If we are going to continue to perform them, I think it is important to make them reflect our society today. I think Shakespeare would be flattered and thrilled that his material was being explored in as many ways possible to help the plays’ ideas sing out and reach new audiences.”

What roles from Shakespeare’s day would Lucy still like to tackle?

She said: “I would definitely like to sink my teeth into some Marlowe! That’s a real workout for the brain! Now we are beginning to open up more of these classical roles to both sexes, the options are endless. Female characters in Shakespeare often - not always - provide the emotional part of the narrative. The men get to do all the logic, strategy stuff. So it would be great to tackle one of those roles - Henry V immediately comes to mind.”

In Measure for Measure, how do Isabella’s values square up with modern sensibilities - and is she still a wholly sympathetic character?

Lucy said: “It makes me sad to think that simply because we are now living in a more secular society compared to when the play was written, Isabella’s values can seem ‘extreme’ or even ‘cruel’ to modern audiences. Her values, though largely underpinned by her religious beliefs, are a product of 1604 - yes, but they are equally reflective of 2019 - I am a woman and I will have autonomy over my own body. This is still a fight that we are having today.”