Theatre reflections post Weinstein- A time for women’s stories to be told.
2017 could be defined as the year that rocked Hollywood. When film mogul Harvey Weinstein was accused of decades of sexual abuse and harassment, shockwaves were sent throughout the film world. The scale and magnitude of Weinstein’s abuse was unimaginable. In the wake of these allegations numerous other cases of sexual harassment arose; actor Bill Cosby has been re-trialled for sexual assault; the historic accusations leveled at Roman Polanski have been revisited and so have the assertions made by Dylan Farrow about her adopted father Woody Allen. It is hard to utter the names of these pre-eminent men without feeling utter disgust. On the back of multiple cases of sexual harassment, Hollywood’s much deserved (bad) reputation for being predominantly androcentric has just got worse. The world now reels at the idea that these luminaries participated and founded their films on the ugliness of sexual abuse and aggression.
Enter the #metoo movement: a two word hash tag used on social media to help demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace. Women have lost faith in the justice system, and as a result millions of stories have been shared. Through the aftermath of this sadness, positive change is occurring. Yet we wonder how this will be reflected in British theatre. With an investigation underway into the conduct of Kevin Spacey’s eleven-year tenure as Artistic Director of the London Old Vic, it’s clear that British theatre is not exempt from this stigmatisation. Will theatre in 2018 create an environment in which these stories can be told? This upcoming season of British theatre promises to do so, with female direction, writing and gender-neutral casting forming a big part of some of the most anticipated productions.
This upcoming theatre season is not one without strong female protagonists. Sylvia- at the Old Vic- is the dramatization of the life of militant women’s rights campaigner Sylvia Pankhurst, a production designed to celebrate the 100-year mark of women’s suffrage. Although historical, the twist of hip-hop choreography courtesy of Kate Prince swiftly modernizes it. Co-written by Prince and Priya Parmer and performed by Dance Company ZooNation, it will be an important piece commemorating the life of an original pioneer of feminism.
Hayley Atwell makes a swift transition from television to theatre; having starred in the acclaimed TV adaptation of EM Forster’s Howards End, she becomes a merciless depiction of Capitalism in Sarah Burgess’ Dry Powder at The Hampstead Theatre. Amongst technical business jargon and playground politics emerges Jenny: a high-powered, driven woman played by Atwell. At a time where females are lacking representation in the business sector, Burgess makes an attempt to disqualify this stereotype by presenting the audience with a ruthless woman skillfully navigating the world of a private equity firm.
Another female-led production stars Carrie Mulligan in Royal Court Theatre show Girls and Boys. Ostensibly, it is about a man and a woman’s relationship which begins with an airport encounter. Mulligan takes center stage in a whirlwind romance that focuses on an all-encompassing romance and an ordinary family life that eventually suffers a dark twist. Written by Dennis Kelly and directed by Lyndsey Turner, Girls and Boys marks the first time the two have collaborated with one another on a show.
RashDash Theatre’s new tour of Three Sisters promises to be the most relevant production in the wake of Weinstein Revelations. RashDash Theatre, a duo comprised of Abbie Greenland and Helen Goalen, are known for pushing boundaries, challenging patriarchal language structures and testing conventional narratives. One of the lines in the production’s summary reads: ‘Chekhov. Dead, white man. A classic play.’ If anything, it promises to be a production that undertakes the challenge of questioning the white, masculine authority that has set the boundaries of theatre since 1901, exploring how these female characters function in a society institutionalised by sexism. This is one to look out for, with the tour coming to Bristol’s own Tobacco factory from 12 June-16th June 2018.
Amongst these, Marianne Elliot directs Company this coming autumn, starring Rosalie Craig and Patti Lupone. Elliot re-imagines this iconic musical with the lead role of Bobby being played by a woman for the first time. This bold gender bending choice ensures that Elliot challenges the archetypal promiscuous male character by depicting a woman, played by Craig. Elliot suggests that this is not a political statement, but more an effort to make the play current. This realisation that one's life lacks direction is not a predicament that men exclusively feel but is also a problem faced by women; to suggest otherwise seems painfully archaic.
Nick Hytner’s new Bridge Theatre also utilises gender reversal in his recent production of a modernised, Trumpian Julius Caesar where the role of Cassius is played by Michelle Fairey. Although gender bending is not new to British Theatre, it seems that in light of recent events it is important that the destruction of rigid gender roles becomes an integral part of the casting process, rather than a gimmick. Directors have noted how it is in fact crucial to re-imagine these male characters as women in order to keep the plays relevant, rather than to simply make a political statement. These classical and iconic texts are being reformed, and it’s about time too.
The burgeoining #metoo movement has not provoked any direct theatrical responses as of yet for this upcoming season. Despite movements being made, female theatre (directed by women for women) is still within the large minority. However, we can be assured that Fringe shows this year will change this. We have not yet fully witnessed British theatre’s reaction to the Weinstein saga. This is largely due to the fact that the majority of this season’s plays were commissioned prior to the onslaught of sexual allegations levelled against this titan of world cinema. So watch this space: as more real-life stories get told, their theatrical counterparts will crystalise. In the meantime, we can look forward to a season of compelling female characters and bold artistic decisions from some of our favourite theatres and most revered directors.
India Bluebell Harrison Peppe
Sylvia Runs at the Old Vic from 1 Sep-18th Sep 2018
Dry Powder is on at the Hampstead Theatre until the 3rd of March
Thursday 8 February – Saturday 10 March 2018-Royal Court Theatre
Company is on at the Gielgud Theatre from September-December 2018
Julius Caesar is on at The Bridge Theatre from now until April 2018