On the Map: Out, Damned Spot

Mandy Van Deven
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“Really? No! I mean, is this story for real?”

This was my reaction to finding out that, after four centuries (yes, centuries), Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London will hold its first-ever play penned by a woman. Nell Leyshon’s Bedlam will begin showing in September, and “it’s about damned time” doesn’t begin to cover it!

Sixty years after the theatre’s opening, women began to grace the stage of the Globe. Previously, acting had been seen as unsuitable for the ‘fairer sex’ and, therefore, prevented by law. Given the legal barrier, I don’t fault the theatre for simply operating within its institutional limitations. But it’s pretty incredible that it took so many years for a female playwright to be front and center.

According to the current artistic director, Dominic Dromgoole, that isn’t for his lack of trying; he’s been looking for a leading lady (so to speak) throughout his four year tenure at the Globe. “There has been a lack of women in theatre as a whole. By and large in history, there are plays by men and about men, with some very extraordinary exceptions,” he explains. “What is great now is the new generation of excellent female playwrights coming through – Lucy Prebble, Polly Stenham and Nell Leyshon – who are redressing the balance.”

Okay, so I forgive him. There’s something to be said for a guy who recognizes and attempts to redress gender inequality. But what about the other guys (and gals) in London’s theatre scene for the past 346 years? Apparently Bedlam isn’t the only thing that’s insane.

A humbled and politically conscious Leyshon recognizes this milestone is no small feat, and knows she has big shoes to fill. “It’s a challenge and I’m quite aware of the fact,” she told The Guardian. “I have to be honest, it fed my writing; I thought I can’t write a flabby play. I wanted to prove that women can do conflict, that they can write big structures, big stories because I’ve heard it said too many times that women aren’t as good at that.”

Sounds to me like this is one dramatist who is up for the challenge. I look forward to the rave reviews.

Photo credit: Claire McNamee

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5 Comments Have Been Posted

Great Lady Macbeth reference

Great Lady Macbeth reference in the title. Lady Macbeth is my homegirl :)


I thought it was pretty clever myself: a woman is tormented to the point of insanity by a misdeed only she can see. Yeah, I'm patting myself on the back. What of it? ;-)

(Yes, I know the misdeed was instigated by her, but that's not the point. :-P)

The post seems to neglect to

The post seems to neglect to mention that The Globe only reopened in 1997 and only puts on a few new plays a year; it's a momentous occasion for this to be the first play a female playwright, but not too shocking considering the Globe was non-existent for the previous three centuries and a half. It was only around from 1576-1644, with an intermission during those years when it was burnt down the first time. It was demolished in 1644 having stopped putting on plays two years earlier, and not rebuilt after the end of the puritan Commonwealth era.

Furthermore, by the time the theatres opened again after the end of the protectorate in Britain, new theatres were being built, and one of the most foremost playwrights of the restoration era in England was a woman- Aphra Behn.

All the Globe's a Stage, Except When It's Not

Well, here's the problem. There have basically been three Globe Theatres. One lasted from 1599-1613, another from 1614-1642, and this one's been around since 1997. So when you ask about the other 300-odd years, there actually wasn't any Globe to stage plays by anyone, male or female.

So cumulatively there have been 55 years total that there's ever been a Globe Theatre in London, and 42 of those years were in the 17th century. It's really more of a question of what's been going on there for the last 13 years (a lot of Shakespeare, mostly).

credit where credit is due

I think we should differentiate between the Globe and the "London theatre scene", or risk discounting some really wonderful British women playwrights. What about Caryl Churchill? Gender, race, colonialism, oppression, sexuality, identity politics... The staging of <i>Cloud Nine</i> specifically called/calls for race inversion - its critique of "performance" is phenomenal and multilayered.

I would love to learn about new women playwrights that are doing important things on the British and world stage.

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