As the media’s flames began to dance merrily around the feet of the patriarchy this autumn, I had a shameful revelation. Shameful in itself and shameful too that I hadn’t hitherto been aware of it.
I haven’t ever directed a play by a woman.
I should pause on this. I suppose, the fact that I make all the productions I make working very closely with women, has allowed me to either unconsciously ignore or subconsciously excuse that fact. (It’s no excuse.) Dead (mostly white) men roam unchallenged around the margins of my work.
High time to do a play by a dead woman, then. I’ve always known about Aphra Behn, never made her acquaintance before. Virginia Woolf wrote of her:
All women together, ought to let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn… for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds… Behn proved that money could be made by writing at the sacrifice, perhaps, of certain agreeable qualities; and so by degrees writing became not merely a sign of folly and a distracted mind but was of practical importance.
Behn is an extraordinary character. Her background is mostly obscure, contradictory; she spent time at the fringes of the early English colonial project in Surinam, travelled widely, may have been a spy. As well as being the first professional female playwright in English, she wrote one of the first novels, Oroonoko, a plea for racial tolerance. No saint though: an unashamed elitist and anti-Semite – sharing, indeed, certain disagreeable qualities with her later admirer.
So, Anna Healey and I will be making The Rover with the 2018 MA Acting (Classical) cohort at Central, April 17-20 in the Webber Douglas Studio. We’re delighted to be working once more with Manuela Harding, Ed McKay and Dan Balfour. Booking details to follow shortly …