2016: A year in the life of Women in Theatre

What a year 2016 has been.

We’ve had Brexit, Trump and the decease of the Great British Bake Off as we know it – not to mention countless farewells to the greatest icons of all time: Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, Victoria Wood, Jean Alexander…the list goes on.

It’s been tough.

Nevertheless, I aim to remain positive in trying times, hence why the theme of this blog is achievement, specifically, achievements for women in the theatre sphere in 2016 – hurrah!

1. Emma Rice – Artistic Director, The Globe

Emma is an inspiration to any woman who wishes to pursue her theatre dream. Coming from a place as peaceful as Cornwall, London was not a natural calling for her, but she knew she had to take the opportunity at hand – and by god she did. She bravely shook up The Globe and its traditional “shared lighting” approach with light rigging, microphones and contemporary music. Her Wonder Season included a concoction of: A Midsummer Night’s Dream with bright neon lighting, a bold performance of Imogen and a charming production of 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips by the Cornwall born theatre company Kneehigh. Emma’s influence proved refreshing and popular, in fact her work attracted “new and diverse audiences, won huge creative and critical acclaim, and achieved exceptionally strong box-office returns” (Source: The Guardian). She openly admitted to finding Shakespeare a bit dull – which was of course met by a wave of criticism…but hey, someone’s got to say it, right?

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Emma Rice. (Source: The Telegraph)

Emma acknowledged the fact that the only way to get young people through the door of the Globe was to make theatre more accessible, relatable and dare we say it…fun. Nevertheless, this failed to appeal to the board who accused Emma’s decision of introducing modern lighting as excluding the audience from the action. However, Lee Curan, the lighting designer of Imogen argued:

“In reality, the audience was always lit during Imogen (except in the blackout at the end of the show) – the groundlings were generally lit in the same manner as the stage. This was fully considered in the design” (Source: The Stage)

Thus, the news of Emma’s departure from the Globe seemed wholly unfair, and frankly, a step backward. Many argue that the board are becoming so precious about preserving the historical accuracy of the Globe, that it’s becoming more of a museum than a place of theatrical experimentation.

Emma argued that she would not have received the same treatment if she was a man, which opened up a discussion about the treatment of the female voice within the theatre sphere: Do we still have a long way to go?

Regardless of her early departure from the Globe, it’s clear that Emma made a significant impact to the way we see Shakespeare. It’s so refreshing to see such a strong woman with a clear vision; Emma made 2016 that little bit more magical.

2. Phillipa Soo & Renèe Elise Goldsberry & Jasmine Cephas Jones : Hamilton, The Musical

I love this musical so damn much. Lin-Manuel Miranda absolutely nailed it – I mean, it took him six years to write, so a lot of time went into making it the masterpiece it is today. What I appreciate the most is his attention to the female characters, Eliza Hamilton (Phillipa Soo), Angelica Schuyler (Renèe Elise Goldsberry) and Peggy Schuyler (Jasmine Cephas Jones). In a time where women were second class citizens and lived in the shadows of their husbands, Miranda brought their individual personalities to light and heralded them as strong women in their own right. The song ‘Schuyler Sisters’ is perhaps one of my favourites because it’s sassy as hell and shows how the female protagonists are smart women with fresh ideas and a positive outlook on the future:

[ANGELICA]
I’ve been reading Common Sense by Thomas Paine
So men say that I’m intense or I’m insane
You want a revolution? I want a revelation
So listen to my declaration:

[ELIZA/ANGELICA/PEGGY]
“We hold these truths to be self-evident
That all men are created equal”

[ANGELICA]
And when I meet Thomas Jefferson

[COMPANY]
Unh!

[ANGELICA]
I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel!

[WOMEN]
Work!

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Phillipa Soo, Rennee Elise Goldsberry & Jasmine Cephas Jones. Source: Variety

Director, Thomas Kail discusses the strong bond between these female protagonists; fiercely loyal sisters who see only the best in each other. He says:

“I hope it’s not a secret. They are the heartbeat of the show. Those ladies, the bond they have, the love they have for each other, is so palpable. It’s why that number when we meet them is such a wave of oxygen.” (Source: Variety)

Soo discusses the development of the strong sisterly relationship on stage: “because of our relationship, just as who we are, it all kind of just flows out onto the stage seamlessly” (Source: Variety).

Strong women in the theatre industry who support each other rather than tear each other down are a force to be reckoned with, Goldsberry explains how women in the industry can be “our resource and our strength and our sanity” (Source: Variety).

So, if 2016 has anything going for it, it’s that women are beginning to accept that becoming a unit rather than a pack of competitive she-wolves will ultimately lead to progress.

I am now greatly anticipating going to see Hamilton when it comes to London…

3. Female Monologues: A Girl is a Half Formed Thing and Iphigenia in Splott.

2016 has been a great year for the expression of the female voice in the monologue form as well. Earlier this year I watched a monologue adapted from Eimear McBride’s novel: A Girl is a Half Formed Thing. It was one of the most emotionally raw shows I have ever seen; Aoife Duffin seamlessly moved from one character to the next, telling her story of repression and abuse in Catholic Ireland. This show broke boundaries with it’s intensity and honesty – setting the female voice free.

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Aoife Duffin in A Girl is a Half Formed Thing: Sourced from Bristol 24/7

I must admit I never got to watch Iphigenia in Splott, however, I heard countless good things about it and I like to use it as another example of the female voice gaining free reign. Mark Shenton praised the production:

“A short but bruising play, fired up by the piercing intensity of Sophie Melville’s performance as Effie.” (Source: The Stage)

I wrote a piece myself about one-hander shows and how they can be effective when done right, and these two examples are brought to light. They are both exceptionally powerful pieces that put women centre stage, making 2016 a successful year for female monologues!

4. Powerful young girls: RSC’s Wendy & Peter Pan and Kneehigh’s 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips.

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Mariah Gale as Wendy: Sourced from westendtheatre.com

Children’s literature is constantly challenging the perception of young girls, and older tales are still being adapted and presented from different angles; the RSC’s Wendy & Peter Pan is a prime example. This show successfully placed Wendy, Tinkerbell and Tigerlily at the forefront of the tale as they become the true heroes when they are required to save Peter and the Lost Boys. I explained in my review that Wendy (Mariah Gale) is portrayed as being a much more developed, flawed human, rather than the prim and proper mother figure she is so often portrayed as; this was a very refreshing change in the story and most importantly, a positive message to send to young girls.

Similarly, Lily (Katy Owen), the young protagonist in Kneehigh’s 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips proves to be a brave, outgoing young girl who is willing to do anything for her family, friends and most importantly her cat, Tips. Incredibly, this tragic story of war, loss and friendship is drawn from Lily’s diary; Michael Morpurgo writes with such clarity and insight, while yet again Emma Rice triumphs in the execution.

When transformed to the stage, children’s literature can be outspoken and brave, and this was definitely achieved in 2016.

You could say that 2016 hasn’t been too bad at all. Really important steps have been taken both on and off stage in regards to women’s position in the theatre industry and it can only go up from here…right?

(Hopes for a better 2017)

If you liked this, then follow, like and share! Also, follow and tweet me @tesshenderson94

If you liked this, then follow, like and share! Also, follow and tweet me @tesshenderson94