The cast of Blurred Lines by Nick Payne at the NT Shed Photo: Simon Kane

How bad is gender inequality for female playwrights?

In Features, London theatre, Native, Opinion, Plays, Regional theatre by Victoria SadlerLeave a Comment

Terri Paddock recently hosted a series of events alongside the play, The Father, at Trafalgar Studios. Included in these debates was one on whether enough is being done about gender inequality in theatre.

Though, sadly, I missed the discussion, I decided to collate my thoughts on how this impacts female playwrights, in particular, as it’s a subject that riles me enormously.

The platforming of female playwrights is, in some places, appalling and it continues to be a challenge across the board. We’ve all known this for a long time but, for me, the real nadir moment came when the National Theatre commissioned a play about feminism, Blurred Lines, and gave it to a man – Nick Payne – to write.

I mean, if women can’t even get commissioned to write a play about feminism, what hope is there?

When I saw Blurred Lines I was furious, my review on the Huffington Post leading to the NT press office to contact me. Well, they say you ain’t a proper critic till you’ve upset a press office so I guess you could say that was a coming-of-age for me personally. I don’t doubt Nick Payne’s talent but it angers me to this day that a play about feminism was given to a male playwright to write.

Alecky Blythe’s London Road at the National Theatre, Olivier Theatre. Photo: Mark Douet

Alecky Blythe’s London Road at the National Theatre, Olivier Theatre. Photo: Mark Douet

The National Theatre, of course, has previous when it comes to its preference for male playwrights, but it is not alone.

Last week, I sat down and went through the past productions list on the Old Vic website. In the past 10 years, the Old Vic has put on two plays written by women – TWO. Cloaca and Kiss Me, Kate. And that’s me being generous as Cloaca, written by Maria Goos, opened in 2004 – 11 years ago – and Kiss Me, Kate was co-written by Sam and Bella Spewack.

So actually I could conceivably claim that in the past 10 years, the Old Vic has not put on a single play written by a sole female playwright.

In all the #thankyouNick tweets that covered Twitter on Nick Hytner’s leaving the National, Alecky Blythe‘s London Road came up again and again as a highlight for many – a play that has now been adapted for the screen. As did Lucy Prebble’s The Effect, which won the Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play.

Another of Lucy’s plays, Enron, was a huge hit and won the 2009 TMA (Theatrical Management Association) Award for Best New Play.

Then there’s Lucy Kirkwood’s Chimerica, another critical hit, which walked off with the Evening Standard Award for Best Play. And the current holder of this year’s Verity Bargate award is a woman: Vicky Jones won it for her play, The One. Take a look at this year’s awards: we’ve got Jennifer Haley’s The Nether nominated for Best New Play at the Oliviers, Beth Steel won Most Promising Playwright at Evening Standard for Wonderland, an awards show that also saw The James Plays, written by Rona Munro, awarded Best Play.

The message is clear – if you give us the platform, we deliver.

So why aren’t female playwrights getting visibility? Can we reduce this to the simple thesis that theatre is a world dominated by men, and that men commission men? Well, no. It’s a lot more complex than that…

Terri Paddock recently hosted a series of events alongside the play, The Father, at Trafalgar Studios. Included in these debates was one on whether enough is being done about gender inequality in theatre. Though, sadly, I missed the discussion, I decided to collate my thoughts on how this impacts female playwrights, in particular, as it’s a subject that riles me enormously.

Victoria Sadler on Twitter
Victoria Sadler
Victoria Sadler is a writer living in London. In addition to theatre, she regularly reviews art, fashion, film, music, books and ballet and blogs for Huffington Post. Her books include Banking on Burlesque, a memoir about her past double life as an investment banker and burlesque performer, and her debut novel, Darkness. She is also a playwright and screenwriter, whose credits include The Murder of Anna Politkovskaya, Votes for Women and Burlexe. She tweets @VictoriaJSadler.

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Victoria Sadler on Twitter
Victoria Sadler
Victoria Sadler is a writer living in London. In addition to theatre, she regularly reviews art, fashion, film, music, books and ballet and blogs for Huffington Post. Her books include Banking on Burlesque, a memoir about her past double life as an investment banker and burlesque performer, and her debut novel, Darkness. She is also a playwright and screenwriter, whose credits include The Murder of Anna Politkovskaya, Votes for Women and Burlexe. She tweets @VictoriaJSadler.

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