Cambridge Theatre: Where are the Women?

There are many talented female actors in Cambridge- so why are there not more roles for them? HELLIE CRANNEY and ELLEN ROBERTSON don’t know either.

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Earlier this week we were told by a member of teaching staff, who shall remain nameless, that the reason there aren’t as many thespian, female Cambridge alumni as men, is because ‘Shakespeare isn’t particularly kind to women’.

Why thank you sir, that one had passed us by.

It’s true; whilst the Bard created many beautiful and insightful portrayals of men, his women don’t quite receive the same amount of attention, representation or stage-time. If you’re an actor and there’s a conventional piece of Shakespeare being put on near you, you have a much higher chance of getting cast if you have a penis. So OK, nameless teaching staff member, we take your point about Shakespeare.

This Summer, the RSC announced its Roaring Girls season at the Swan theatre. Three underperformed Jacobean plays with women at their core are to take centre-stage. The Roaring Girls season is exciting but the fact that it is such a rarity is also hugely dispiriting. In a recent study by the actors’ union, Equity, it was found that there are far more parts available to men than women despite the fact that 50% of its members, and –lest we forget – 50% of the population are women.

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The Roaring Girl was last played by Helen Mirren in 1983 at the RSC

It turns out that most British drama schools choose to take more men than women to ‘reflect the demands of the industry’ and that only 17% of female playwrights are published.

It is all too clear that representation of women in theatre has not leapt all that far from its Shakespearean portrayals. Female actors have a much shorter shelf life than men. Emma Brookes pointed out this week that in the upcoming Dickens biopic The Invisible Woman Kristin Scott Thomas, the lover of Ralph Fiennes in The English Patient, now plays the mother of his mistress. Sexism is rife in theatre and film.

But what can we do to change it?

Playwright Stella Duffy says we should ‘vote with our feet’ – we should all demand better and more equal representation.

There are so many talented female actors in Cambridge. At auditions here, women often outnumber men 3:1… why are there not more parts for them? And leading ones at that?

Last week we had The History Boys with a cast of eleven men to two women. This week we have Jerusalem, which centres on the enigmatic male Rooster and features far smaller parts for women.

Out of a total of 16 main show plays programmed this term (new writing and established successes) only 2 female writers can be found. One wrote the book to the musical Funny Girl and the other is one of 3 writers of this year’s Footlights Pantomime.

Tonight, Yellow Cup Theatre, our new all-female theatre company presents – for one night only – a rehearsed reading of the first act of ‘The Other Line’, a brand new play we have written and that we hope you will join us in watching. Perhaps together we can work towards it receiving a main-show slot next term, and bit-by-bit, we can attempt to overcome the hugely unrepresentative portrayal of women in Cambridge theatre that is symptomatic of a much wider problem.

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I wrote a play and it was all yellow

We are not just wives and girlfriends, we are individual beings and we are of equal importance. Vote with your feet.

‘The Other Line’ 11pm ADC Theatre £5/£6 You can book here.