Saturday, 9 November 2013

Women at the NT – some facts

[guest post, mostly]

Denys Lasdun putting the finishing touches to his south bank NT

In the last week since the National Theatre’s interesting two hour NT50 extravaganza on BBC2 there’s been a gradual accumulation of criticism for the lack of representation of women writers, culminating in Sam Potter’s piece for the Guardian.

As is now inevitable with this sort of issue, I spent most of the week discussing it behind relatively closed doors on Facebook*. However, my friend, the writer and director James Morris, happened to have a spreadsheet which contained details of every production the NT had done, so he did a bit of number crunching. The below results are mostly copied and pasted directly, and reproduced here with permission.

We started out with conjecture:

“If you sort the data in that spreadsheet by playwright it makes for depressing reading. You’ll find that you probably have more productions of Shakespeare (up to and including Peter Hall’s latest Twelfth Night, to which you can add Othello and Timon of Athens since) than you do plays written by women.

“In fact, I’d go so far as to say if you added David Hare, George Bernard Shaw, and Tom Stoppard together, then you’d probably have about the same number of plays by those three men alone as there are plays by all women in the NT’s history, and I’m being generous and counting plays that Katie Mitchell devised/developed from source material (e.g. Waves or some trace of her) as being ‘written’ by her.

Then James checked it out:

“Okay, I did the math: if you only take into account the Old Vic, Olivier, Lyttelton, and Cottesloe (no Shed, no Paintframe, no Loft, no Shunt, etc.) then you have 67 shows that were either written or co-written by women and 726 that were written by men. When shows were devised I generally grouped them under the gender of whoever was leading the process - whatever I did here would be flawed in some way. That makes for about 91% of shows on the National’s main stages being written by men. 31 of those 67 shows were under Hytner, along with 192 by men, meaning he’s above average at about 13% written or co-written by women.”

For all that 13% per cent is a pretty uninspiring figure, let’s at least note that ALMOST HALF of everything written by a woman to be staged at the NT was staged under Hytner’s regime. Let’s also remember that many of the men tipping this balance are “dead white males,” to use a strangely familiar phrase.

During Hytner’s time, if you discounted plays by playwrights who are dead [I count 54], you’d still have a gender imbalance, but it wouldn't be anywhere near as bad.

No. It goes up to 23% – so, of commissions of living playwrights, we got up to almost a quarter in the last decade. Annoyingly, of course, that figure goes down again when one takes into account the fact that virtually every *version* of a foreign playwright, alive or dead (and entirely male, I think), was undertaken by a male playwright.

Of those 67 plays by women in the NT’s entire history, 42 were in the Cottesloe (14% of 291 Cottesloe productions), 16 were in the Lyttelton (5% of 214 Lyttelton productions), 6 were in the Olivier (3% of 199 Olivier productions), 3 were at the Old Vic (3% of 89 Old Vic productions)

For comparison: there have been 68 productions of plays by Shakespeare.

[NOTE: this includes duplicates with revivals and also things like the Animals & Children Took to the Streets. This information is for all productions from the first performance of Hamlet up through all announced shows for the rest of 2013.]

Re: my suggestion (made first on Facebook and then as a comment on the Guardian blog) that for the next fifty years we should just reverse these figures, James pointed out:

The NT probably does more plays in a year now than it used to, even after transferring to the South Bank. At the moment they probably do circa 22-25 shows a year. Back in the late 70s and early 80s it was more like 15-18.

So, the good news for male playwrights is that the NT can probably start commissioning more work from them again (at a rate of 50%, equal to the rate with which women will also be being commissioned and produced) sooner than 2063


After this, we turned our attention to directors.

Directors who have directed the most plays by women/co-written by women: Katie Mitchell (7, including several of her own workings) and John Burgess (5). Howard Davies has directed 2 plays by women and 33 by men, Hytner now has 37 productions (more than anybody else) and they were all written by men. Peter Hall has 30, all by men. Trevor Nunn has 20, all by men. Laurence Olivier has 8, all by men. Richard Eyre is the only Artistic Director of the National Theatre ever to direct a play written by a woman on one of its stages and that was more than fifteen years after he stepped down: Welcome to Thebes, by Moira Buffini. He has directed 32 productions at the National, 31 by men.

[update: see comment below from John Burgess, who adds to his five: "two Studio Nights in the Cottesloe Theatre – The Women by Clare Booth Luce (co-directed with Peter Gill) in March 1986 and Travelling Time by Rosemary Wilton in March 1987"]

There have been 7 productions co-directed by men and women, 106 directed by women, and 678 directed by men.

The number of shows directed by men whose first name is Peter is 76.

(I couldn't find details of who directed a couple of shows like Inua Ellams’ Black T-Shirt Collection [update: it was a man] and Daniel Kitson’s show the other year)

Katie Mitchell is the most regular female director with 18 productions, followed by Marianne Elliot with 11 (+ 2 co-directions), Deborah Warner and Di Trevis with 7 each, then Melly Still and Phyllida Lloyd with 5 each.

The first woman to direct for the National Theatre was Joan Plowright in 1969 - she directed Rites by Maureen Duffy and co-directed The Travails of Sancho Panza with Donald MacKechnie.

The first woman to direct an NT production on the South Bank was Nancy Meckler in 1981. Between 1969 and 1981, not a single National Theatre production was directed by a woman. In the entirety of Hall's time as Artistic Director (1973 to 1988), there were 8 productions directed by 5 different women: Nancy Meckler, Sheila Hancock, Cicely Berry, Di Trevis, and Sarah Pia Anderson.

By contrast: in 2007 alone, there were 9 productions directed by 7 different women: Anna Mackmin, Deborah Warner, Emma Rice, Katie Mitchell, Marianne Elliot, Sarah Frankcom, and Thea Sharrock.

Of those 9 productions, only one show was (co-)written by a woman: director Emma Rice's version of A Matter of Life and Death.

Of the 113 productions in which a woman was involved as director, 30 (26%) were written - or co-written - by women. Of the 678 productions directed solely by men, 37 (5%) were written - or co-written - by women.


* As a side issue; it’s interesting how much writing-about-theatre now takes place entirely on these “unofficial” social networking sites. It still feels that between Twitter and Facebook half the impetus for blogging was totally removed when they arrived, and also that a significant amount of time was also taken off the table. This is, I suppose, my “first-wave blogger” reactionary grumble akin to Michael Billington’s bemoaning the passing of “the kind of prolonged argument about the arts that once took place in the correspondence columns of newspapers”.


John Burgess said...

Very pleased all this is on record. In fact I directed not 5 but 7 plays by women at the National Theatre. 5 of them were part of the main programme – True Dare Kiss and Command or Promise by Debbie Horsfield, Neaptide by Sarah Daniels, When We were Women by Sharman MacDonald, and The Neighbour by Meredith Oakes. What your statistician overlooked were two Studio Nights in the Cottesloe Theatre – The Women by Clare Booth Luce (co-directed with Peter Gill) in March 1986 and Travelling Time by Rosemary Wilton in March 1987.

Andrew Haydon said...

Thank you so much for commenting. Will update accordingly.