Broken Leg Theatre never set out to write a politicised piece of theatre. The idea for Three Generations of Women grew out of a conversation in the pub about the different challenges women have faced over the last century. We asked, was there more pressure on women today? Not necessarily practical challenges; my Nan had an outdoor loo down the bottom of the garden right into her sixties, I’m not going to compete with that. But more the sense of expectation on women these days to be everything to everyone. To keep so many plates spinning, the glorification of busy.
It wasn’t a question we felt qualified to answer on our own, so in 2014 with support from the Arts Council, we met with groups of women up and down the country to talk to them about their experiences of growing up in the UK over the last 100 years.
There is something hugely powerful about just getting a group of women together to talk. Something supportive and nurturing, that empowers women to open up and speak honestly and without judgement. We spoke to a huge variety of women all over the UK, from a group of midwives in London, to mums at a playgroup in Brighton, to a group of elderly women, the oldest of whom was 102, in Leeds. We started with the same series of questions, asking the women about the challenges they’d faced in their lives, and the best advice their mothers had ever given them. But the directions the discussions took us in were profoundly different.
The play that grew out of the discussions is based on hearing those experiences, of real women’s lives and the challenges they face, and that in itself feels intensely political.
On one hand, the lives of women over the last three generations have been shaped by the political stances of those times, from employment laws for women to the introduction of the Pill. But on the other hand, the decisions the women made in their personal lives influenced and shaped politics. They were not prisoners of their society, they were agents who went on to define it.
Interestingly, Broken Leg Theatre, which is co-directed by two women, Anna Jefferson and Alice Trueman, is now working with a brilliant all-female creative team to realise the production. This wasn’t a political decision but a logical one – these are the artists we felt were best placed to help us tell this story. But that, like the forums, has been an eye-opening experience. Women are still embarrassingly underrepresented in theatre. So to be working with an exceptional female director, Ria Parry, and an experienced creative team of women, feels befitting for a project that explores the challenges women have faced over the last three generations to find their voice and shape their world.
Image credit Amy Griffin.