‘Trouser roles’ – as they are known in opera – where women play male characters, are common and this season by Welsh National Opera will feature such a role: Prince Orlofsky in the opulent and popular production of Die Fledermaus, which features the decadence of Vienna society as its backdrop

As WNO arrive at Birmingham Hippodrome, we take a look at some of the most famous roles in film, theatre and literature where men have dressed as women and women have dressed as men.

Mrs Doubtfire

This 1993 comedy filmed in San Francisco starred the late great Robin Williams in the title role with supporting roles for Sally Field and Pierce Brosnan. The film – based on the book by Anne Fine – sees a divorcee dressing up as an elderly Scottish nanny in order to spend more time with his children. When main character Daniel needs to be at two different tables at the same restaurant at the same time his two worlds combine leading to an uproarious conclusion to a great film.

Some Like it Hot

This classic romantic comedy set in the 1920s and made in 1959 sees Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon fake it as female orchestra players to escape town after witnessing a murder. They team up with Marilyn Monroe – playing the gloriously seductive Sugar Kane – to create a comedy film full of slapstick and mistaken identity that has become a classic.

Edna Turnblad – Hairspray

The larger than life character who turns her slippers and self doubt to confidence and glamour is famously portrayed by John Travolta in the film, whilst Harvey Fierstein and Michael Ball have both set the stage alight in the theatre in the role. This feel good film is a musical tonic in a spray can for all ages.


Pantomime slapstick and extrovert characters are the order of the day with pantomime dames traditionally portrayed by men in roles such as Widow Twankey and the Ugly Sisters, whilst the Principal Boy is often a female playing a male such as in Puss In Boots!

Victor Victoria

Julie Andrews stars in the film version of this musical as Victoria Grant, a struggling soprano who becomes a male female impersonator to make ends meet.  Along with her manager – cabaret singer Toddy – they hit the heights of fame and fortune, until a love interest threatens to bring down the curtain on their charade.

George Eliot

Mary Anne Evans was a female author in the Victorian era who went by the pen-name ‘George Eliot’ in order to get ahead and avoid the stereotypes of that time around female writers… to great success!  Her novel Middlemarch is regarded as her best work and one of the English literary classics.

Shakespeare In Love

Gwyneth Paltrow plays Viola de Lesseps, a woman playing a man, playing a woman in William Shakespeare’s acting troupe in a time when no women were permitted to perform on stage. Whilst she keeps her disguise her relationship with Will develops without the knowledge of her fellow thespian friends. A great film or much ado about nothing…..


In Sydney Pollack’s epic comedy Dustin Hoffman plays Michael Dorsey, an unsuccessful actor who disguises himself as a woman in order to get a role on a trashy hospital soap with hilarious consequences.  As his character gains popularity he starts to fall for the soaps’ leading lady and heads for hot water …..


Determined to take her ageing father’s conscription place at war young Fa Mulan heads off to join the Chinese army in their aim to defeat the Huns.  As her alto ego Ping she becomes hunted by Hun leader Shan Yu as he recognizes her as ‘The Soldier in The Mountains’ whilst Eddie Murphy provides the fun as her humourous side kick dragon Mushu.


Miss Trunchbull is the formidable female headmistress of Crunchem Hall Primary School, attended by Matilda Wormwood and her friends. In 1996, a film version of Matilda was released, with Pam Ferris famously playing Miss Trunchbull whilst in the RSC’s musical adaptation of the story, ‘the Trunchbull’ and Miss Honey’s frightening aunt is played by a man.


Barbra Streisand plays a Polish Jewish woman who disguises herself as a man so she can study the Talmud in early 20th-century Europe.  As well as starring, Barbra Streisand also directed, winning a Golden Globe for Best Director – the first woman to do so.

Welsh National Opera’s Autumn season visits the Empire Theatre with Die Fledermaus on 10-11 November.  WNO will also perform Eugene Onegin on 9 November.  For more information and booking details, visit wno.org.uk