The Donmar Warehouse's all-female Julius Caesar

The Donmar Warehouse’s all-female Julius Caesar

Being an unemployed actor, I have lots of time to sit and wonder why I’m an unemployed actor. It could be that I’m terrible at acting, which would be unfortunate. Maybe I’m OK at it but have just been unlucky recently. Maybe I have selective deafness and the normal speaking voice that I hear in my head actually comes out as a kind of crackly, wailing shriek. Maybe I walk weird. I don’t know.


However, one thing I know certainly doesn’t help is that the kind of theatre that makes money nowadays just isn’t really interested in women. The other day I worked out that of all the actors in the last four plays I’ve seen, only FOUR were female. I’d estimate that there was an average of eight actors in total per show, so for every one actress I saw across those four plays, there were seven male actors. “Phew,” I thought. “Finally, a good reason why I can’t get a job. Oh no wait. That’s awful news.”

Now, I haven’t just been deliberately going to see man-heavy productions so that I’d have something to whinge about. The reasons for choosing to see these shows were, respectively, Friend A wants to go; Friend B wants to go; got a free ticket because I said I’d review it; God I love David Tennant. So a pretty unbiased sample, I think. Three of the plays were about the journey of a male protagonist, and the fourth was a classic fairytale in which the female protagonist’s journey is Marriage To Nice Man. The cast of this play featured two of the four actresses I saw, which makes the maths go a bit sticky in various ways, depending on how good you are at maths.

As a side note, a major female character in the latter production was played by a man. As a spindly, off-shooting side note to that side note, all-male productions where female parts are played by men are starting to get on my wick. There I said it. I’m all for casting to be messed around with, especially with Shakespeare where it tends to happen most frequently, but can we PLEASE save casting men in the women’s parts until it’s a bit easier for an actress to catch a break? It’s getting quite hard to watch. Not least because I’m broke from no work and can’t afford a ticket. Thanks.

Don’t get me wrong, the shows I saw were great. But I keep looking at my watch and wondering when it’ll be time to start telling women’s stories in film, theatre and TV. Stories that don’t necessarily involve marriage or love or children, but just stories about a person attempting to fudge their way through the world, where that person just happens to be female. When will we stop making a woman’s gender in fiction the prism through which she experiences the world, or worse, simply tacking her on to a man’s story as a vehicle for his self-discovery? I would politely encourage you to do the gender maths for the last few plays you’ve seen like I did. Perhaps you’ve just been to see Top Girls, The House of Bernarda Alba and the Vagina Monologues and you’re actually a bit worried about underrepresentation of the male narrative in theatre. But I doubt it.

If you’re a director, look at the last play you directed. If you’re a playwright, look at the last play you wrote. If you’ve been to the cinema recently, look at this and then think about the last film you saw. Maybe I am just a terrible actor. But it’s time we levelled the playing field, so that if a girl like me can’t get work, it’s because she’s a terrible actor and not just because she’s a girl. Or other inspiring words of hope.

Photo by Flickr user vinzcha under a Creative Commons Licence.