At 17Percent we really do believe that the best way to achieve equality is women and men working together harmoniously, that the theatre ‘should be a conversation, not a competition’; so though our key focus is on promoting female playwrights and theatre practitioners, if there is a play written by a man that sparks our interest, maybe because it’s got a female production team, or strong female characters, we are happy to talk about it.
An Act of Twisting is a new play by Rondo Artistic Director Ian McGlynn at the theatre in Bath, playing from 6-9 March, before touring the South West. It’s got a timely and compelling topic, with a provocative twist: in a mysterious institution, four women are set a bizarre challenge, to improve the national standards of torture.
We asked Hannah Drake, Rondo Associate Director, to tell us a bit more about the play: It “…was inspired by the question ‘What if the WI were in charge of torture?’, and while it has moved on from that premise there are certainly echoes of it in the characterisation of one or two of the roles. It features four female characters and a male hostage, which was originally written to be performed by a dummy, but I’ve chosen to enlist actors to play this non-speaking role to heighten the atmosphere. A lot of the canon of plays we have place women in particular roles – the side-kick, the wife etc – and are often preoccupied by domestic interests or being the object of romantic or sexual attention. This play doesn’t do that, which was a big part of its appeal. It’s a play that is surprising, funny and moving at turns, and I hope that people will enjoy it as a piece of theatre, rather than seeing it as a “women’s issues play”.”
Hannah’s connection with The Rondo goes back to last year, and she has directed an impressive line-up of plays in a short time. She trained as a director at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in 2010 before embarking on a freelance career, based in the South West. In 2012 she became the first Directing Intern at the Rondo Theatre, learning how to run the theatre, as well as directing Alliance, Fertility Objects and Product Displacement – a trio of new plays. She’s now the Rondo Associate Director, and Ian invited her back to direct his play An Act of Twisting.
I know that the team at The Rondo programme a lot of female playwrights and plays with good roles for women – which is fantastic. As a woman, how do you feel about directing plays that are written by women? Do you feel you have more of an obligation to seek out female-led or written plays?
The gender of a playwright isn’t a major consideration for me, to be honest – if I’m looking for a play the thing I look at first is the story, or the themes, then the playwright and their previous productions. When working on new plays the gender of the playwright is a factor for me only in how it may or may not have shaped their personality – it’s my job to navigate that relationship to bring out the best in our work. So far I would say I’ve directed a fairly even spread of male/female written plays – from Oscar Wilde to Alison Farina. I feel that if I have any obligation, it’s as a director to seek out interesting stories with interesting characters, and as a member of society an obligation to present as accurate a reflection of that society as possible (in terms of a gender split) – especially when creating shows for younger audiences. So I am certainly more aware of not always directing plays weighted too much to one gender over another. I suppose my own gender and life experiences will naturally impact on the issues and stories that interest me though.
This is a controversial one – I’m being devil’s advocate – do you think there is a male/female sensibility in writing and if so, what do you think it is? Could a woman have written this play?
We all have our own judgements and stereotypes of what makes a ‘male’ or ‘female’ sensibility – whether that’s a certain type of empathy, tone, humour, topic, or even political standpoint. And I do think these can be identified in play-writing, but I don’t think a playwright’s personal gender dictates their writing sensibility. For example, Frank McGuinness writes in a poetic, empathetic ‘feminine’ way, but he’s a bloke. Similarly, Laura Wade writes with a starkness, and an aggression as she creates political worlds in Posh that might be called ‘masculine’. But these writers are also flexible and change from project to project. I don’t know if a woman could have written this play, but I also don’t know if another man could have either.
– We also asked the play’s writer, Ian McGlynn, for his views on this one:
I guess the only thing to add is that while you have to be true to the characters and the situations they’re in, I find the notions of male/female ‘sensibilities’ to be bogus – it’s all about writing for people and imagining how people feel/react, rather than getting caught up in writing differently for man or women. Of course, if you’re writing a female or a male character, you have to take into account their status/position within society, but after that it’s just about their responses as a human being within a given situation.
(Back to Hannah) What/who are the plays and playwrights that inspire you?
Oooo so many! Playwrights that immediately come to mind are Naomi Wallace, George Bernard Shaw, Shakespeare, Polly Stenham, Frank McGuinness, Simon Stephens, Fraser Grace, Martin McDonagh, Aaron Sorkin and Ben Ellis. I’m also inspired by directors like Marianne Elliott and John Tiffany – one of the most affecting productions I have ever seen was Black Watch.
An Act of Twisting plays from 6-9 March 2013 at The Rondo theatre in Bath.
Find out more and how to buy tickets on The Rondo website.