"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