12 October was the first night of 17Percent’s new showcase of plays by female playwrights, She Writes. One question we received before the night was – why do you need a showcase of plays by women, why not men as well?
As visitors to this blog will know, currently only 17 % of the plays which get onto UK stages are written by women. This means that for 83 % of the time, plays by men are already having their own showcase – so here’s to a bit of positive action! There has been much research about the gender discrimination faced by female playwrights in the theatre (some of it discussed on this very blog). Women are simply less likely to have their work performed, especially if they don’t have a track record. So how is a (maybe new) female playwright ever to get her work on?
She Writes is a place where this can happen. Writers with little or no experience are as likely to be chosen for the showcase as those with more experience. We are simply looking for voices whose words sing to us.
The theme for 12 October – the first night – was a meal. We gorged on two Starters, four Mains and two Desserts.
And why was this theme chosen? One of the reasons often given by the people who commission work (on TV as well as in the theatre) as to why they won’t commission a female writer is that ‘women only write about the domestic’ – as if that is somehow wrong, and that the domestic can’t be funny, touching or entertaining. So the theme for the first two She Writes nights is a meal, you can’t get more domestic than a meal.
We hope that the range of styles and stories shown last night prove that women should be allowed to write about the domestic, should be allowed to write about whatever they want, and that they can write about it in funny, touching, dark, unexpected and lyrical ways.
‘Starter’ by Tracy Harris told the story of 46 year old Peggy’s train journey to something new. The play was acted by Amy Flight in a kind of multiple personality conversation with herself where Amy played all the characters in this monologue. Peggy gets on a train to a conference, encounters various characters, then meets Gerald, who she bunks off the conference with to her possible new future.
‘The Magic Ingredient’ by Sam Hall was about a former teenage mum whose children have flown the nest. Set at the end of the 1980s, the play wove in larger historical events to focus in on the ‘unbearable lightness of being’ felt by Edie. Sadie Hurley bought a kind of lyrical wistfulness to Edie, as she mixed ingredients and plotted her future.
‘Enjoy’ by Maggie Drury was a very funny piece turning the idea of restaurant snobbery on its head. Two women in a restaurant discuss the menu. It is only when the waiter appears with a frying pan, do we learn that in this restaurant it’s all about the celebrity chefs’ ranges of cookwares, and that you bring your own dinner – in this case sausages, beans and egg!
‘Harriet is Hungry’ by Claire Booker was one of the darker pieces of the evening, also one of the more non-naturalistic plays. Tam, Sam and Pam are young mothers, playing with their children. Harriet is an older woman who has been unable to have children. She is portrayed as a monster, preying on other peoples’ babies – reflecting the way that childless women can be portrayed in the media and drama. This powerful piece was both lyrical and sinister with Harriet played by Sadie Hurley, in a complete contrast to her role in ‘The Magic Ingredient’ as the benign and wistful mother, Edie.
‘At the Restaurant’ by CS Flint took us back to a restaurant, this time with an ancient mother and her elderly son at a meal. Another light and funny piece, the story revolved around two revelations; who was the son’s real father, and who was his new partner? Sue Blakesley played the 100 year old mum, who reveals her affair with a dictator much to the shock of her son, played by Joshua Devine, who then promptly reveals that he is gay, much to the shock of his mum.
‘Chef’s Special’ by Lynne Taylor once more changed the tone to something darker. Set in a near future when oil has become the most precious of commodities, a women takes her mother-in-law to a restaurant where it turns out she’s going to be the main course.
‘The Fridge’ by Lucy Lucy was another non-naturalistic play, about a woman cleaning out a fridge. But there are things alive in the fridge… Another strong turn from Amy Flight as the Fridge’s hapless victim.
‘Bitter Chocolate’ by Sarah Davies finished off the meal with a lot of laughter. Focussing on a date between a mismatched couple who have met on Match.com, Raymond’s over-protective mother has stalked him to the restaurant, where he meets Wendy. A woman very unsuited to his tastes, Wendy wants scampi in a basket, Raymond wants her to admire his bow-tie. He is left at the end going home with mother. Very funny.
Our next showcase night is on 7 December, the deadline to submit plays for this is 11 November. Poets wishing to come to the open mic should bring up to 3 poems (5 mins in total) on the theme of Cheese and/or Coffee!
You can find She Writes at The Horsebridge Centre in Whitstable, Kent.
(This article is reproduced, in the main, from an article on the She Writes blog.)