It should be as normal as breathing, women centre stage

An Enemy of The People by Henrik Ibsen, adapted and directed by Rebecca Manson Jones . Performing at Albany Theatre, Deptford. CREDIT Geraint Lewis

An Enemy of The People by Henrik Ibsen, adapted and directed by Rebecca Manson Jones . Performing at Albany Theatre, Deptford. CREDIT Geraint Lewis

An Enemy of The People by Henrik Ibsen, adapted and directed by Rebecca Manson Jones . Performing at Albany Theatre, Deptford. CREDIT Geraint Lewis

An Enemy of The People by Henrik Ibsen, adapted and directed by Rebecca Manson Jones . Performing at Albany Theatre, Deptford. CREDIT Geraint Lewis

“I was really interested in the Doctor, the woman being criticised, trying to make it all work and ultimately losing everything…. as a young woman it really struck a chord”

Audience Member post –show discussion Albany.

People always say I’m not talking about the women, which I always find strange. Why should I talk about the women any more than I should say there are men in the work, or people of all ethnicities….? Ok, maybe I’m being disingenuous. The idea for An Enemy of the People was born from a discussion with a female performer (just after the BBC was sued for sacking a female presenter in her 50s). My friend saw her employment possibilities closing down as she hit 50 and I’m in my late 40s so I was wondering about it too.

The reason I don’t make a huge fuss about casting women is that I want the audiences to see women on stage and find it normal. I’ve worked with actors of all ethnicities and I try very hard for their role not to be defined by their race. So I’ve started to do the same with gender. As I got into researching my version of An Enemy of the People, the gender issue became secondary to the climate change issue. The fact that the protagonist was female was less important –  but then there was this feeling of intersectionality identified by the audience and the cast. The cross-over was spotted: why it is that this woman was so committed to the climate change principle?  Why was what was important to her was being dismissed by her brother, with his conventional understanding of good business? Was it chance, nature, their education? How does the community and society view them? How does society view and judge a woman (and her husband) who puts her all into a cause and is hardly around for the kids? We made little explicit comment in the play, we just got on with the story and left the audience to experience it and make up their own minds.

Occasionally someone remembered that the source play involves two brothers and the quality of sibling tension is different between brother and sister. Occasionally someone considered why the community was rejecting the Doctor and seeing latent misogyny behind it.  But what was liberating for us as theatre-makers who happen to be women, is that the play embodied the Bechdel Test (which I hadn’t heard of when I started).

I had by accident made three strong and developed roles for female actors of 3 generations. None of the women was defined by their partner, and the younger woman who finds herself being asked to get put in a box that way, rejects it. The battles for the women were familial and societal (and for the men too).

In terms of the line up of voices in the local participants, women were always overly represented but we had a good spread of men, but that reflects my experience of many community groups. Today it’s the women who turn out to help keep their communities working.

What the production gave me in terms of theatre-making is a determination to keep putting mature women centre stage (there are some brilliant performances we should be seeing from these women) but not to make that the only selling point. It should be as normal as breathing that women are central to the stories we tell in the 21st century, so that’s what how we are treating it.

An Enemy of The People by Henrik Ibsen, adapted and directed by Rebecca Manson Jones. Performing at Albany Theatre, Deptford.
Photos  Geraint Lewis. Yana Penrose, Sarah Malin, Elizabeth Elvin, Rupert Holliday Evans

About Rebecca Manson Jones

Artistic Director and founder of Just Jones &.
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