Features Published 23 March 2015

Women Centre Stage

Four of the theatre-makers involved in the Women Centre Stage Festival discuss the importance of creating great roles for women.
Catherine Love

Charlotte Josephine – playwright and writer-performer of Bitch Boxer (Sphinx Writers Group – Future Voices)

I love theatre but I’m bored of the roles I’m supposed to play. The majority of parts written for women are shit compared to what the lads get to do. Why can’t I have sword fights and car chases, brilliantly witty arguments and meaty speeches that challenge me? I want to work hard. I want to sweat. I don’t want to pretend or be pretty or be polite.

Bitch Boxer was born from a bit of banter in a coffee shop store cupboard. A bloke saw me lugging heavy boxes and made a comment about how I didn’t look very “ladylike”. Why is it women have to hide their strength? Their aggression? Their passion? I am more than capable of lugging heavy boxes, of performing sword fights, of delivering meaty speeches.

That’s why I’m thrilled to be part of Women Centre Stage. The play I’ve written for the Festival, Boys Will Be Boys, is about revenge porn. Our society is so inherently patriarchal, gender in-equality is endemic and needs to be addressed at a much younger age. I hope audiences will respond, I’ve certainly had a great time working on it. Better go polish my sword.

April de Angelis – playwright and patron of Sphinx Theatre Company, contributing to the 24 Hour Plays at Women Centre Stage

Why is it important to consider writing significant roles for women in theatre? Because giving women agency, putting their lives and perspectives centre stage is a feminist gesture with the aim of correcting millennia of exclusion and marginalisation of women who have been prevented from participation in culture with the result that we have heard fewer of their stories.

At the same time it’s good to be aware that we should not obscure the many differences between women; race, class, sexuality. Maybe we should be talking about gender aware plays where men are written radically differently too.

Luke Barnes – writer of Katie Johnstone (Sphinx Writers Group – Future Voices)

In 2015 we find ourselves in a bizarre dilemma when we still rarely see women as three dimensional people that have wants, needs, dreams, hopes, fears and challenges that are not in direct relationship to men. We’re still writing women as either solely wives or solely feminists and rarely as people that want things that are not defined by penises or the defiance of penises. I hope my play fills that gap.

Sue Parrish – Women Centre Stage / Sphinx Theatre Artistic Director

The work of Sphinx Theatre and the Women Centre Stage Festival is a lifelong passion for me. I’ve been involved in women’s organisations since 1979, and was active in the Conference of Women Theatre Directors and a founder of the pioneering Women’s Playhouse Trust which gave established actresses the opportunity to “come out of the closet” and declare their inequality. Our president was Dame Peggy Ashcroft, and our associates included Glenda Jackson, Fiona Shaw, Juliet Stevenson and Harriet Walter.

Four decades on, my work with Sphinx has ranged from national-level conferences to premiering major new works like April de Angelis’ Playhouse Creatures, but every new project is exciting and the chance to return to the coal face new artists is always a pleasure. One of my favourite recent conversations was with Sir David Hare, who wanted to join us to write one of the 24 Hour plays but will be on Broadway, and has sent us huge good wishes!

For now, we’re knuckling down with only a week to go and a lot to get done – adrenaline is a wonderful thing – and hope as many people as possible will join us to share in the results!

The Women Centre Stage Festival runs 27-28 March with the main Festival Performance Day on 28 March at the National Theatre.

Photo from The Question by Peter Cox (part of the Women at War programme).


Catherine Love

Catherine is a freelance arts journalist and theatre critic. She writes regularly for titles including The Guardian, The Stage and WhatsOnStage. She is also currently an AHRC funded PhD candidate at Royal Holloway, University of London, pursuing research into the relationship between text and performance in 21st century British theatre.



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