This autumn Ny Tid published my text about Lucy Kerbel's book "100 Great Plays for Women". You can find the original article (in Swedish) on Ny Tid's homepage and what follows here is my slightly adapted translation of that text to English. A translation of the interview I did with her is also coming.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
100 GREAT PLAYS FOR WOMEN BY LUCY KERBEL
The title does, in this case, say it all. In this book director Lucy Kerbel presents 100 plays, and ten monologues, for women. It is of course a selection, not an exhaustive list of all plays ever written through time. In the introduction Kerbel gives an account of the basis for her selection, and explains that there have been two criteria that the plays have had to meet to make the cut as it were. First of all half or more of all the roles should be women, second of all the plays should have been printed so that they are possible to get hold of for the general public. Apart from this the selection is naturally also influenced by Kerbal’s own linguistic background, since she has read plays that are written in, or have been translated into, English. Towards the end of the introduction she adds that she has chosen to only include a playwright once, to avoid making the book a list of play by writers like April de Angelis, Caryl Chuchill, Sarah Daniels and Bryony Lavery.
The book’s framework is simple, the plays are presented in alphabetical order according to the playwright’s last name. Each play gets a spread [?] which begins with a short summery of the play’s history: when it was first performed; which edition it is available in; how many roles there are and if doublings are possible; and when it comes to translations, which translation she recommends. Each play is introduced with a short synopsis and after that Kerble’s goes into a discussion about the playwright, the play’s background and history, themes or specific characters in the story, depending on the play in question.
Kerbel does not hide the fact that she wants this to be a book that the reader can make practical use of. In England were drama in schools and youth theatre groups are an established part of everyday life this book gives teachers and directors an opportunity to find texts that fit the group they are working with. In the professional theatres (in Finland as well as England) it is a reminder that it is not true that “there are no plays with good parts for women” or that plays that focus on the female experience only deal with women as mothers or partners. Among the independent theatre groups or individual theatre workers this book is a source of information about existing plays or an inspiration for the types of plays that one wants to perform.
It is always possible to discuss the selection, what has been included and what has been excluded, in this type of book. Kerbel writes clearly and consciously about the grounds for the selection and its limitations, and even if the reader might miss a certain play or wonder why another text has been included in the book there is no doubt that it is a question of conscious decisions through and through on the part of the writer.
Personally I came across both familiar and unfamiliar plays and playwrights in the book, plays that have been performed in the Swedish language theatre in Finland, and plays that keep being talked about but so far has not made it as far as onto a stage. Among the plays are also two Nordic works, Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and a dramatization of Märta Tikkanen’s Århundradets kärlekssaga (Love Story of the Century).
I see no reason to pretend that I do not think this is a fantastic and inspiring book. Both because of the content and because of the idea behind to. To choose to take on statement like “there are no parts for women” and find out to what extent that is actually true or not, to highlight at least some of the available alternatives feels like a constructive and refreshing way to participate in the discussion about equality, in theatre as well as other parts of life. By sticking to the concrete Kerbal’s book also becomes a contribution to a discussion that needs to be continually had about how our canon is formed, maintained and changed. I my view her contribution in the shape of this book leads to the follow up question, why aren’t the plays that actually do exist performed?