‘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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About 17Percent

A campaign to get more plays by women playwrights onto UK stages.
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