Women Centre Stage: Heroines was much-anticipated since Sphinx Theatre launched the event back in October. Aimed at getting more female voices onto our stages, Women Centre Stage was a varied and vibrant festival of “prompts and provocations”, garnering contributions from some of our most impressive emerging and established artists. This two-day festival began on Friday 27 March 2015 with a day of workshops and panels at the Actors Centre before reaching a raucous conclusion on Saturday 28 March at the National Theatre with a marathon of exciting new writing and live performance.
The performance day began at noon and we were greeted in the auditorium by Sue Parrish, Artistic Director of Sphinx Theatre, who reminded us throughout the day that women still only make up a third of all roles in UK theatre. Collectively riled by this, the audience murmured with expectation as the house lights faded to black. The day’s programme covered Works in Progress: Parents and Politics, showcasing new pieces from Emma Jowett, Timberlake Wertenbaker, Kali Theatre and Karen Featherstone. Works in Progress: Memories and Mass Observation, featured experimental new work by Caroline Moran, Camilla Harding, Heather Uprichard and Inspector Sands.
The next collection of pieces was performed under Works in Progress: Conflict and Courtrooms.This included the poignant Mind the Gap by Hot Tubs and Trampolines, inspired by the origins of those three magic words we hear every day on the Underground; Judith Jones and Beatrix Campbell’s Justice; Timberlake Wertenbaker’s What is the Custom of Your Grief?; and, Oladipo Agboluaje’s Coralina.
The Sphinx Writers Group: Future Voices segment of the day was the most dynamic and the most provocative. Kicking off with Katie Johnstone from Luke Barnes, it was great to be reminded that men can, and must, engage with the issue of female under-representation in theatre if real progress is to be made (further supported by the significant number of men in attendance throughout the day). Welcome Home Lottery by Matilda Ibini; and extracts from Sharmila Chauhan’s sensual new play, Roses, were read next; Charlotte Josephine’s Boys Will Be Boys is a profoundly intelligent piece of work and the opening monologue delivered by Josephine herself is especially raw and powerful.
The Women at War plays began strongly with Catriona Kerridge’s Shoot! I Didn’t Mean That!; Peter Cox’s play-with-music, The Question, set in post-WWI Europe; My Name is Rosa Luxemburg is billed as the ‘lost’ play of Pam Gems, who died in 2011 and translated the play from Marianne Auricoste’s French-language original in the 1970s.
The closing part of the festival attracted the largest and rowdiest audience of the day, drawn in by the mystery of not knowing what they’d come to see. 24 Hour Plays: Heroines presented brand-new and spontaneous work by April de Angelis, Rona Munro, Rachel DeLahay, Barney Norris and Roy Williams, who had all written through the night to create a series of fifteen-minute plays inspired by women in the headlines. From Katie Hopkins to female bishops, the stimuli varied from playwright to playwright and took us on a wild journey of laughter and lament which provided the festival with a very fitting conclusion.
I sincerely hope we get to enjoy the benefits of a Women Centre Stage festival on an annual basis, as its inaugural year has certainly proved that there’s a greater appetite for female-centric theatre than ever been before. Furthermore, Women Centre Stage is not only an important celebration of creative talent but also of diversity, showcasing work by a range of women on both sides of the stage. It is an initiative which is hugely needed and an initiative that needs to continue.