Lucy Kirkwood’s Chimerica wins big at Oliviers

Lucy Kirkwood’s Chimerica, which enjoyed sold out runs at the Almeida Theatre and Harold Pinter Theatre, was the biggest winner at this year’s Olivier Awards with five awards including American Airlines Best New Play, Best Director for Lyndsey Turner and the XL Video Award for Best Set Design for Es Devlin.

Chimerica’s Tim Lutkin also shared the White Light Award for Best Lighting Design and Carolyn Downing jointly won Best Sound for the play.

Chimerica question the issue of ethics of photojournalism and press freedom through exploring the relationship between the US and China since the Tiananmen Square protest.

Lucy Kirkwood is a writer in residence at Clean Break Theatre Company and her first play  It Felt Empty When the Heart Went at First but It is Alright Now – about Eastern European women trafficked to London to work in the sex industry was highly praised.

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Minding the GAP

The GAP Salon is a London, UK group that meets monthly in person and constantly online.

The GAP Salon (Gender and Performance) aims to connect, sustain, and inspire artists and advocates working for gender equality. In our monthly meetings, we facilitate an informal space where artists and advocates can meet, exchange ideas, and support each other.

More information at

At April’s meeting, we’ll recap our many International Women’s Day eveGAP salon logonts last month, and make plans for the near future. The discussion is always shaped by the people in the room, so please come and add your voice to the conversation.

Join the Facebook group to see event details and participate in our online discussions.

The next meeting is on 9 April, at the Royal Festival Hall, please join the group, or visit the website to see more details.

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Interview with Karen Ardiff

photo of Karen Ardiff

Karen Ardiff

We asked Karen Ardiff, the writer of the award-winning ‘In Skagway’ to share a few words about her background, the development process of the play and advice for writers…

What is your background?

I was born in Dublin, went to the Samuel Beckett Centre at Trinity College, Dublin and did a degree in Modern Drama and English. I then spent the next twenty some years as a professional actress before beginning to write in tandem with this. I’m still an actress.

What made you move from acting into writing novels and plays? How did you start writing?

I had always written – privately as it were – poetry, journals etc, but had never attempted anything ‘longform’. Then one evening when I was visiting my late father Ciaran, he told me a true family story that gripped my imagination. It seemed to me to have growth in all directions and dimensions and it became my novel ‘The secret of my face.’ A while after that was published, a long time collaborator and friend Paul Meade of Guna Nua Theatre company with whom I had worked as an actress, asked me if I would accept a commission to write a play. I said yes although I had never considered doing such a thing until he asked me.

Can you choose your favourite genre?

I don’t think I can. My shelves are stuffed with novels, poetry, popular science, nature writing, plays, detective fiction, short stories, programmes of plays and playscripts. Live theatre is exhilarating at its best, but so is the moment in solitude of reading a poem that raises the hairs on the back of your neck. I do love childrens fiction though. I’ve rediscovered it since becoming a mother and it has reawakened a sense of wonder that is not quite activated by anything else.

How did this play develop? How does it relate to ‘The Goddess of Liberty’?

This play moved from being a linear narrative – a kind of picaresque journey through time and across a continent in a very early draft, to where it is now; a play that to some extent obeys the unities and occurs within one physical space. After a couple of drafts I had the opportunity to work on it with the Fishamble New Play clinic, which afforded myself and Paul a couple of readings with actors and then discussion with Fishamble’s dramaturg Gavin Kostic. That was so incredibly helpful. Guna Nua and the Civic Theatre then premiered the play in Ireland as ‘The Goddess of Liberty’ (In Skagway had been my own preferred title).

The production of ‘In Skagway’ at the Arcola gave me an opportunity to revise the script mainly by ‘filleting’ it and making it more muscular, and in this I was greatly helped by the director Russell Bolam and the wonderful cast, with whom I worked for their first week before handing the script to Nick Hern for publication as the playscript/programme.

What would your advice be to other women who may not have started out as writers?

I’m not sure many people start off as writers without having worked as something else before… I suppose if you want to write you will write. I wouldn’t rush to quit the other thing though….

Why did you decide to tell this story?

I had been fascinated by the story of the Alaskan Gold rush since finding a copy of a book by Pierre Bertrand in a bookshop in Monterey, California when I was touring there as an actress many many years ago. Then, ten years ago, my mother suffered a devastating stroke and our family was plunged into that strange world where there is no room for sentiment and dark humour is a vehicle that gets you further forward on the road. When I sought to write about the latter place, the former came immediately to mind.

I decided to tell this story because on so many personal levels I needed to tell it.

We don’t see enough plays telling women’s stories, and often one reason given for this is that women’s stories won’t be marketable enough. As this play has been the recipient of various awards then this is a play that proves that as a misconception! But knowing that, why did you decide to tell the story entirely with women?

Quite simply, the story was about the three women T-belle, Frankie and May. They had always been the principle characters in my mind, because their story was the one I wanted to tell. Nelly the Pig was the only character who could conceivably have been ‘male’ but I was far more interested in how two very different young women would speak to one another. For the record, one of the first person narrators of the novel I wrote was a 67 year old man, so it is not a policy of mine to write only from the female perspective!

The play also has two key roles for older actresses, another thing that is still rare – were you motivated to write the characters for older actresses through your own experiences, of there being overall fewer good roles for women?


Can you describe the playwriting scene in Ireland currently? Are there many opportunities and/or support for new writers?

I mentioned the Fishamble Play Clinic which helped me, plus commission and unbelievable support I received from Guna Nua. There are many many companies and organisations supporting the development of new writing in Ireland. The Abbey, Rough Magic, the Stewart Parker trust, the list goes on…

‘In Skagway’ is at the Arcola til 1 March. Booking info here.

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In Skagway – Karen Ardiff’s award-winning play at the Arcola

In Skagway image, photo by Bronwen Sharp

(photo by Bronwen Sharp)

There are some little nuggets of gold in ‘In Skagway’, the award-winning play by Irish writer Karen Ardiff, currently playing at the Arcola in London.

The play tells the story of two Irish women who have fallen to the bottom of the pile and ended up in an Alaskan town at the end of the Gold Rush. Frankie is a former actress of questionable talent, who has been crippled by a stroke, (played by Angeline Ball,) and May, is her lifelong friend, babysitter and nurse, (played by Geraldine Alexander). Somewhere over the years, and the trailing round America, May has had a daughter, T-Belle (Kathy Rose O’Brien), who has been prospecting for gold to get them out of Skagway. When the play opens we find them in a shack, scrabbling for money to buy food, whilst T-Belle’s stash of gold lies hidden under the floorboards. But Auntie Frankie has had other ideas for the money, and now she’s incapacitated, her vanity has lost them the gold, unless the just-returned T-Belle can think of another way out.

The performances by all the cast are good, in particular, Angeline Ball as Frankie before the stroke, is fiery and fierce, willing to do anything in her pursuit of her career, and Natasha Starkey as prostitute ‘Nelly the pig’ is a mix of frenetic, desperate sexuality, an echo of Frankie’s former self.

The past is blurred with the present as the story unwinds, and we discover a bit about how the women got here and hints of why they are trapped together, through personal debts and family bonds.

It is the sections in the past that are the most compelling, as the secrets and lies that have kept these women together for so long, are revealed, in pockets of bright light, as Frankie’s memories begin to splinter.

In the present, Frankie is mute in a chair as life goes on around her, and it’s not till the end that we get a disembodied voiceover telling us what she’s feeling. Individually, I liked all these different elements of the play; the present, the past and the altered reality at the end, but the meshing of the three didn’t quite work for me, and seemed somehow unbalanced.

However, this play has some really stunning little moments and excellent performances, and how often do we have the opportunity to see a play featuring four main female characters?

‘In Skagway’ runs till 1 March 2014   
Director Russell Bolam will be conducting a post-show talk on Monday, 17 February.
The play is published by Nick Hern Books

Arcola Theatre 
24 Ashwin Street
Dalston, London
E8 3DL
Box Office: 020 7503 1646

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A book for your bookcase

Image of Plays for today by womenPLAYS FOR TODAY BY WOMEN
eds. Rebecca Gillieron & Cheryl Robson
Aurora Metro Books, £15.99 pbk
ISBN 9781906582111
256 pages

In this collection of plays by women you will find five full-length plays and a short play, where you can get a snapshot of the range of plays being written by women at the moment. Of course, there were plays that I preferred to others, the most surprising and moving being ‘Yours abundantly, from Zimbabwe’, about a woman who adopts a school. It’s never quite clear, not even at the end of the play by Gillian Plowman, whether the woman has been conned or not. ‘From the mouths of mothers’ by Amanda Stuart Fisher is a harrowing (yet at moments, hopeful,) verbatim drama about child abuse; it’s really moving, more so when you consider these stories are true.

I found the three other full-length plays less appealing, ‘Welcome to Ramallah’ by Sonja Linden and Adah Kay is about two Jewish sisters in Palestinine, ‘The Awkward Squad’ by Karen Young tells the story of three generations of Northern women in Britain today, and ‘Sweet cider’ is a story about two Pakistani girls who have run away, by Em Hussain, which felt like the most underdeveloped of the plays, but also the most theatrical.

The expanse of subjects this short collection covers shows that women are not just writing about the kitchen sink, the claim so often levelled.

The darkly comic short play ‘For a button’ by Rachel Barnett was my favourite, the fact it’s been included in this collection is great as having your short play performed at a scratch night for no income is so often the way that new writers start to learn their craft and get noticed. So often these plays are never seen or heard of again, so having them in print is a nice record of that moment before what came next for the playwright.

That is very much what this collection is good for, to provide a snapshot of an exciting time for female writers; Plays for today by women, plus various exciting events and groups led by women in theatre, and the new plays by women I’ve seen recently, make me think that something positive is really about to happen. Perhaps it’s time for the seventeen per cent to become more.

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RETOLD – a fairytale festival without the happily ever after

Retold flierRETOLD is a night of three darkly comic, thought-provoking, contemporary renditions of traditional fairytales. It features three short plays by women writers, including a play by Claire Booker, whose plays have showcased at She Writes. The new show is presented by Goblin Baby Theatre Co., an emerging activist theatre collective not afraid to address taboos and set out to challenge the confines of conventional theatre.

‘Fairytales have always fascinated us and captivated audiences from young to old. Many themes are far beyond being just children’s stories and often the moral of the story can be quite sinister.

Some fairytales have origins reaching back thousands of years and over time they have constantly been changed and updated, showing how in their very core they deal with fundamental topics and issues of humanity and human nature.

Continuing the practice of adapting fairytales in order to expose and criticise stories of the contemporary world, RETOLD presents new, mature and provocative takes on three of them.’

 The plays featured are:

As if by a Stair by Amy Bethan Evans, directed by Tessa Hart
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your never-ending list of qualifications and work experience so that I may find it useful to me and rescue you from your childhood bedroom. That’s if I don’t go to one of the thousands of other maidens in your situation first. You get the picture.

The Snow White Complex by Tilly Lunken, directed by Kuba Drewa
Outside a cinema Rose, Sophie and Lilly wait for the next screening of Snow White. It’s not for a while; they are far too old for this really, and yet here they still are, by the door, clinging onto the twisted dregs of a fairytale.

Little Red Hoodie by Claire Booker, directed by Bradley Leech& Rebecca Hill
It’s dark, it stinks and it’s packed with victims. Can Hoodie, Gran and Aisha escape from the Wolf’s dark belly, or should they wait for the Woodcutter?

Aimed at an adult audience, although suitable for ages 12 and over.
You can see RETOLD at The Space from 14-18 January, and at The Hen and Chickens, from 28 Jan-1 Feb.

The Space, 269 Westferry Road, London E14 3RS
£9 (Concessions: £7)
Dates: Tuesday 14th to Saturday 18th January 2014 at 7:30pm (Saturday matinée at 2.30pm)
Box Office: 0207 515 7799 –

The Hen & Chickens Theatre, 109 St Paul’s Road, London N1 2NA
Dates: Tuesday 28th January to Saturday 1st February 2014 at 7pm
Box Office:

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“Should I keep ‘Mum’?” Guest post by Roisin Rae of Prams In The Hall

Prams in the hall logo

We recently profiled Prams in the Hall, here one of the founder members of the company, Roisin Rae, ponders the terminology of motherhood, in this guest post. 

I have written plays about war marches, celebrity royals, camping trips and the apocalypse, these have all been easy enough to summarise and explain to people. My latest stage play, created for Prams In The Hall Theatre Company, is about Sophie Taylor, a woman who is a painter and has children, and I keep finding myself struggling for a pithy way to describe the show. Should I call Sophie Taylor a Mum, Mummy, Parent, Mother? Which works best in a tagline?


The word ‘parent’, is a turn off. It’s very rarely used in advertising anything sexy or cool, it more naturally fits with words such as ‘advisory’ and ‘guidance’. Can the much sought after young, hip theatre-goers be tempted along to see a production with the tagline: ‘A play about what it means to be a modern parent’?  It’s too dry, too distant. No.


Used mostly by young children, in my opinion it sounds either childish or very upper class when used by adults. ‘Mummy’ is also reminiscent of chick-lit about the social group labelled ‘Yummy Mummies’ (a label I am aurally allergic to and want to avoid referencing). No.


This is okay, but it sounds formal, traditional, old Mother Courage, Mother India, it makes me think of Mother-in-Law, a Mother hen and Old Mother Hubbard. No.

So why not go for the simple, popular, short, modern, obvious choice:


Advertisers have taken over the word Mum. It no longer just means female parent, it refers to a particular sort of woman: nice, friendly, attractive but not too groomed. Mum knows best, Mums are (everyday) heroes, Mums are dependable and warm and sometimes very slightly jokey, as we know from the bread, or gravy or bingo adverts. If a Mum is at the centre of your play then it will be assumed that the play is nice, friendly, very slightly jokey like a long advert, or a middle-of-the-road sitcom. No.

Of course what I would like is for these words not to have those associations, for ‘Mum’, or ‘Parent’ not to mean a particular sort of person any more than the words ‘woman’ or ‘person’ refers to a particular sort of person. That is pretty much why I wrote the play ‘The Inner Life of Sophie Taylor’. I wanted to bring onstage the drama of being a Mum, the guilt, social pressures, the frustration of feeling reduced to a title, the failures, the conflicts, the joy, the exhaustion and the nuances of a parent’s relationship with their small children.

I think this is a neglected area of dramatic exploration. Perhaps because the vast majority of produced playwrights are male and most tend not to choose ‘Mum’ as the protagonist. Perhaps because parenting isn’t a very ‘sexy’ subject and theatres and producers don’t think it will sell. Perhaps because we are still accepting the advertising world’s version of ‘Mum’ and everyone prefers to keep Mum cosy and nice, the sensible, dependable, slightly boring one in sitcoms and insurance commercials. With ‘The Inner Life of Sophie Taylor’ I am offering an alternative, more complex portrait of a Mum. I’m still working on the wording of the tagline.

‘The Inner Life of Sophie Taylor’ will be shown at The Space in June 2014.

Prams In The Hall is a theatre company which encourages access to process, rehearsals and performances for those who have children. They work with those with children and those without. 

Find out more about them: and look out for an exciting collaboration between 17Percent and Prams In The Hall next year! 

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Prams In The Hall – children, creativity and chaos

Roisin Rae and Anna Ehnold-Danailov

Roisin Rae and Anna Ehnold-Danailov

Last month 17Percent met with Roisin Rae and Anna Ehnold-Danailov of theatre company Prams In The Hall.

Prams In The Hall are based on an interesting idea – taking children into the rehearsal room. On one hand, this seems like such an obvious idea when childcare is prohibitively expensive and theatre is often such a poorly paid profession, but on the other hand, what chaos might ensue?

Anna Ehnold-Danailov, Sarah Hunt, Roisin Rae and Ain Rashida Sykes are all theatre professionals and parents. In summer of 2012 they established the theatre company Prams In The Hall, encouraging access to process, rehearsals and performances for those who have children. Prams In The Hall focuses on new writing, collaborating mainly, though not exclusively, with actors, directors, writers and other artists who have children. Their ambition is to create the highest standard of work while exploring and sharing new working practices that include bringing young children into the rehearsal room.

For professional women it seems there is often a stigma attached to having children (more so if you are a single mum), and this appears to be particularly true in theatre. Many actor friends have been unsure whether to mention they have children at auditions and some even feel forced to keep it a secret. Prams In The Hall celebrate and support the chaos and creativity that bringing a child to the rehearsal room can create. At Prams In The Hall, children are a welcome, planned for and part of the company. ‘We agree to create a safe and fun environment for them, as well as helping each other to work despite the chaos, and find ways of allowing it to feed into our creative process rather than stopping it.’

The company’s work is not restricted to ‘parenting issues’. However, the productions currently in development, ‘Through Daddy’s Eyes’ and ‘The Inner Life of Sophie Taylor’, take an unconventional look at modern parenting.

‘Through Daddy’s Eyes’, directed by Ain Rashida Sykes, puts on stage on stage the voices of real fathers, taken from the curated blog Daddy Diaries.

‘The Inner Life of Sophie Taylor’, written by Roisin Rae and directed by Anna Ehnold-Danailov, focuses on the inner turmoil of an artist who is also a mother.

Since starting the company, Anna told me that several women have emailed her and said ‘thank you, because I was getting to the point where I was really worrying that if I have children then that’s the end of my career, but now I feel like my choices are more open.’

Everyone is welcome: mothers, fathers, carers, guardians, as well as theatre practitioners without children who would like to work with us.

Ways to find out more about Prams In The Hall:

And read our Guest post from Roisin Rae.


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News from one of our regular She Writers

It’s great to be able to share updates from writers who have been showcased by our showcase She Writes in one of its forms. We showcased two of Claire Booker’s plays in our Whitstable showcase – Harriet is Hungry was performed in October 2011, and Lost Property was performed in June 2012.

Harriet is Hungry which was subsequently developed into Harriet by the swings as a result of seeing the play in performance, (showing how important in a play’s development it is to be able to see your work,) and has been performed again in different cities at Lost Theatre, Loose Muse and Beyond Words!

Claire said: “She Writes really boosted my confidence…  Although I was unable to attend in person, due to distance, it was fantastic to see the video recording of the performance, and I reworked the piece as a result, and it went on to have a full production at The Lost Theatre.”

We are delighted to tell you that Claire has a number of short plays being performed over the next few months, and wish her luck with them.

Lost Theatre 5 Minute Play Festival – (Tues 10th Dec) Claire’s play Enemy set in Russia 1943, is on with 9 other scorchers as part of a five day festival of 5 min plays, all introduced by stand-up MC. Starts at 7.30pm, tickets £8/5 for the evening.
For more details of the festival or to book tickets check out:

Retold – A Fairytale Festival - (14th to 18th Jan at The Space, nr Canary Wharf; + 28th Jan to 1st Feb at The Hen & Chickens, Islington). Darkly comic versions of traditional stories produced by GoblinBabyCo. Claire’s play ‘Little Red Hoodie’ takes place in the Wolf’s belly. Plus Tilly Lunken’s ‘The Snow White Complex‘ and Amy Bethan Evans’ ‘As If By A Stair‘. Tickets £9/7. 7.30pm. Not suitable for children under 12. Matinees on Sat 18th Jan and Sat 1st Feb. For more details or to book tickets check: out: or

Last Man in Watford – (Wed 12th Feb, Covent Gdn) if you didn’t catch it at the Hen & Chickens, and missed it at Southwark Playhouse, then here’s a last chance to glimpse a future where women rule the world and men are kept in zoos! Tickets £5/3 at the door. 8pm at Loose Muse, Poetry Cafe, 22 Betterton Street, WC2H 9BX. For info on Loose Muse, check out its website:




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‘We can’t do the house of Bernarda Alba forever…’

Lucy Kerbel is a director who after working for a few years, began to notice the gender imbalance in who she was seeing (and directing) on stage. When she began to ask colleagues and peers why she wasn’t seeing more women on stage, as she notes in her introduction, she kept getting the same response: ‘There just aren’t any good plays for women…’ which leads to the same sort of plays being produced and no new or different work getting a chance, and students of drama only getting the chance to see certain roles, or act in certain plays, which then gives the myth more credence.

‘It was almost as if being a woman, rather than being a human, was the beginning and end of their stories.’

This book is Lucy’s attempt to once and forever kill off that myth, as she has researched 100 plays in which the casts are either predominantly or entirely female. The collection is a personal choice, and some playwrights and plays haven’t been included which you would maybe expect to be included, but as Lucy herself said in her NT Platform about the book on 20 November, she could have included 100s more plays in the book… and maybe they are saved for a second volume…

In the Platform, Lucy also discussed why it was she thought that more women aren’t seen on stage and it’s very much for the same reasons that more women playwrights don’t get their work performed: ‘Traditionally there is a lack of confidence in stories about women selling enough tickets’. But Lucy is hopeful that situation is changing given that the majority of ticket buyers in the UK are women, and that TV dramas including Scandi-noir and primetime cop shows are now foregrounding women’s stories.

‘It is important that another generation doesn’t grow up with the idea that the only good stories are about men.’ (And I could add, it’s important that another generation doesn’t grow up with the idea that the only good stories are written by men. An equal number of male and female playwrights are represented in the book.)

100 Great Plays for Women will act as your starter. Plays are listed so that there is a breakdown of F/M roles, so that if you teach a drama class you can immediately find a play suited to your (probably predominantly female) class members.  There is a short description of the play, which doesn’t give away the plot, but gives a flavour of it. Importantly there are publisher details so you can be more proactive and go and find yourself a printed copy.

I think that’s an important point of the book – we all need to be more proactive if we are to achieve equality on our stages. In researching this directory, Lucy Kerbel has done the simple, but brilliant, thing that nobody else did. She has made it impossible for people to fall back on the lazy excuse that there aren’t any good plays for women. Now it is up to theatre-makers, students and drama teachers, exam boards and actors to demand more, and better, roles for women. Wave this book in people’s faces when they try to say there are no good roles for women.

Buy 100 Great Plays for Women from Nick Hern Books.

Find out more about Lucy’s organisation Tonic Theatre. Tonic Theatre was created in 2011 as a way of supporting the theatre industry to achieve greater gender equality in its workforces and repertoires. Today, Tonic partners with leading theatre companies around the UK on a range of projects, schemes and creative works.

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