Review: Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival, Hampstead Theatre

“Join the movement for righteous anger”

With over 100 cast, writers, directors and crew, and 25 plays (none of which were by Agatha Christie!) spread over 7 programmes, Sphinx Theatre’s Women Centre Stage: Power Play Festival was a full-on day indeed for those of us who stayed the course from midday to nearly 10pm, with scarcely time to imbibe yet another coffee as we moved from rehearsal room to studio to main house. But though I was 90% caffeine by the end, the buzz I was experiencing was one of delight at the sheer breadth and quality of the theatre we’d been privileged to witness.

The Women Centre Stage Festival was initiated by Sphinx to bring together artists, venues, commissioners and funders in expanding the range of women’s roles and this it has done in a number of different ways. Workshops ran throughout the week at the Actors Centre, a panel discussion broached the larger question of how to improve gender equality in theatre and the plays that were presented throughout the festival’s performance day ranged from works commissioned and developed from the 2105 festival, to the fruits of Sphinx Writers Group, to rapid responses to this week’s headlines.

(Slightly) more detailed reviews of each of the sessions are linked below:

In Conversation | Changing the Landscape 

But I wanted to highlight some of my favourite works of the days – the writers, plays and performances that made me sit up and pay (even more) attention and which will be well worth keeping an eye out for in the future.

Camilla Harding and Alexandra Sinclair’s Man Up! was an astonishing look at the fluidity of gender identity and a challenge to the norms that society imposes, Claire-Louise Cordwell’s idiosyncratic abuse survivor in Justice has the makings of an epic character, and it was a pleasure to revisit Chloe Todd Fordham’s agonisingly poignant The Nightclub alongside new work from Dawn King and Jessica Siân, Marlene Sidaway’s liberated widow simply joyous. But the standout programme for me was New Women, consisting of three stonkingly good pieces.

How could I not love The Hiccup Project’s May-We-Go-Round with its Spice Girls, Pulp and Cher routines but the knowing glint in the eyes of Cristina Mackerron and Chess Dillon-Reams lends an intriguing depth to their comedy slash dance slash performance art awesomeness – I can’t wait to see them again. Winsome Pinnock’s hypnotic Tituba recasts The Crucible as a slave narrative to glorious effect as delivered by the smokily charismatic Cecilia Noble. And April de Angelis’ razor-sharp Wilderness saw Janet Suzman and Kathryn Pogson wage amusing battle over mental health.

(c) Deniz Guzel

Chaired by Sarah Crompton, the panel discussion was also hugely enlightening. Timberlake Wertenbaker giving the playwright’s perspective and Suzanne Bell of Manchester’s Royal Exchange and Elizabeth Newman of the Octagon Theatre in Bolton giving an organisational view of how gender equality does, or doesn’t, work in reality, the things they have to push for, the attitudes they need to push against. It really made me reflect on my own practice in my own small way and what I could be doing better (namely, restarting my own data collection and carrying out regular gender audits on my own theatregoing). A most thought-provoking and theatrically-inspiring day all-round.

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