It is generally accepted in the theatre industry that it can be notoriously difficult for women to be cast in strong complex roles. Many famous plays are dominated by male roles and the few female roles that there are feature often simple or boring characters.
A current trend is to gender swap roles which can provide the opportunity for female actors to play roles usually given to men. Gender swapping some roles in a play or even making an all-male play or a play with roles of both gender into an all-female play is a good way to even things out in an industry traditionally dominated by men. I have played male roles myself on more than one occasion. However, another way for you to give the female actors in your company an opportunity to dominate the stage is to look at scripts that were written for a cast of only women.
Here are some that are worth having a look at.
1. The Regina Monologues, Rebecca Russell and Jenny Wafer
A tragicomedy inspired by the wives of Henry VIII. Three Catherines, two Annes, and a Jane who all married a man called Henry, except the story has been moved to the modern age. Each wife tells her own story which become intertwined as the story progresses. There are six female roles of varying ages creating a nice opportunity to put together a strong and varied female cast. This is a story everyone knows and one that is as relevant today as it was 500 years ago.
2. 51 Shades of Maggie, Leesa Harker
The best-selling parody of 50 Shades of Grey is not for the fainthearted, but this one woman show is hilarious and heartbreaking by turns, and if you have a brave female actress with a strong Glaswegian accent is definitely worth looking into. While it’s no longer as in vogue as it once was, this would still be a popular night out for a group of friends, though one that needs to be kept for adults only!
3. The Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler
One of the most politically important and controversial plays of the mid-90s, this episodic play is made up of several monologues by women of different ages, races and sexualities. The play highlights many issues including body image and female genital mutilation. Varied, shocking, heartwarming and breathtaking by turn, it is always remembered by people who have seen it and has become a feminist theatre icon.
4. Rise and Shine, Franca Rame and Dario Fo
A short monologue exploring the oppression of women as both a wife and working mother. A woman wakes up late for work, and she still needs to drop the baby off. This is a piece that can be done with many props, minimal props or a bare stage with a complete reliance on mime. Political and tragic while remaining funny and entertaining throughout, this piece could be presented as part of alone or as part of a selection of works.
5. The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood
A play for one of dystopian fiction’s undisputed greats, this retelling of Odyssey is a lamentable reminiscence featuring the traditional chorus familiar in Greek theatre. There are 13 parts in the all-female cast, Penelope and the chorus made up of twelve maids. The chorus is varied and uses different styles of storytelling making membership of this chorus one of the most interesting of the genre. Performances of the play have been criticised for lacking drama, making this an opportunity to play with direction and create a memorable piece of theatre.
6. Top Girls, Caryl Churchill
Exploring the role of successful career women in early 1980s Britain, this is a favourite on university syllabuses and within theatre schools. One of the first plays to feature overlapping dialogue, this is a good piece to explore natural conversation. Due to the nature of the story some of the scenes, particularly the ones set within the recruitment agency, have become dated over time, however, the opening dinner party scene remains a fun piece of theatre to explore staging and dialogue. The cast is normally made up of seven women with each actor taking on at least two parts with the exception of the leading role, Marlene.
7. Bed Among the Lentils, Alan Bennett
This monologue is the tragic story of a vicar’s wife, alcoholism and the road to recovery in the back room of the local shop. Exploring race and religion, the story has themes reminiscent of Madame Bovary and allows exploration of being simultaneously depressed and passive. As Susan recovers from alcoholism at the end but remains ultimately passive and with her husband, the audience will be left questioning whether her recovery will be permanent, if she will eventually leave her husband to maintain it, or if she will just go back to the woman she was at the start.
Putting on an all-female play may be seen as limiting, but offers all the usual challenges of creating a piece of theatre while also creating the challenge of exploring the role of women in society and the theatre. Give it a try and see how limiting the point of view to one gender in theatre can lead to a dramatic and entertaining piece of work that might teach you something about the world around you and your place in it.