Theatre is dominated by men. It always has been. Women weren’t even allowed to act until the 18th century, and then they were all branded as prostitutes. Stories of white cisgender men, written by white cisgender men, dealing with white-man issues have been boring us for some time. Women are often forced into stereotypical roles that strip them of depth of personality, reducing them to glorified set dressing. Roles like Lady Macbeth, Blanche Dubois and Cecily Cardew are iconic and reductive. The ‘classics’ may be classics, but that’s no excuse for constantly retelling stories excluding women and non-binary people. We need more stories about women, written by women. The success of Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is testament to the demand for and importance of female led storytelling. That’s why I helped form a new theatre company to create meaningful roles for women and tell alternative stories from alternative points of view. Paprichoo is a new female-led theatre company based in Edinburgh with first-hand experience of the lack of female writers, directors, producers, and worthwhile roles.
But what about male characters, you may well ask. Men aren’t excluded from our stories, they’re just not as central as they usually are. Take our debut Fringe show Number, Please.Our main character, Sheila, connects the dots in a fast-paced 1950s spy story with the help of three men in her life, but each is a stereotype that a woman would normally fill. Charlie is the mysterious, dark and brooding spy who can’t seem to put two-and-two together despite his Oxford education and years of experience. Good thing Sheila the switchboard operator can solve the puzzle – a bit like Trinity from The Matrix getting saved by Neo. Then there’s Pete, the police officer who follows Sheila around like a lost puppy, happy to do anything she asks (Molly Hooper from Sherlock,anyone?). And finally Jack, the one who asks all the questions to move the plot forward (see Audrey Hepburn’s pitiful role in Charadeif you don’t believe me). Interestingly not one member of our cast or production team noticed that Number, Please.fails the reverse Bechdel test…
Won’t this stop men from auditioning? Maybe, but if privileged people can’t step aside to allow those usually sidelined to take the spotlight then true equality is still miles away. This isn’t about excluding men, it’s about telling a meaningful story with a female perspective. Besides, attempts at representation in film, television, and theatre don’t have to be as overt as putting a black woman in a position of power (*cough* Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them*cough*). Sheila’s sidekicks may all be men, but only female characters hold real power in the play. These relatively subtle plot points make Number, Please., Paprichoo’s perfect debut production – without terrifying Fringe audiences simply looking for an enjoyable show! We can wait till next year for that.
Number, Please is showing at theSpace on North Bridge (Venue 36) from August 3rd to 25th at 20:05. Tickets available at https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/number-please