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Book Review: 50 WOMEN IN THEATRE

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An inclusive and all-around eye-opening account of how theatre has changed.

Book Review: 50 WOMEN IN THEATRE

A brilliant new collection of voices has just hit bookshelves. 50 Women in Theatre, published by Aurora Metro, shines a light on the invaluable contributions of women across all disciplines and fields of stagecraft. From stage designers to actors, the volume is an inclusive and all-around eye-opening account of how theatre has changed from the post-war period to now.

Collated during a turbulent - yet pivotal - time in the industry that saw thousands of theatre workers suddenly unemployed and unaided by the government, the good and the bad sides of the business all take their place among the pages. Personal accounts and essays paint a glorious picture of theatre, its strengths and its weaknesses, the passion and the pain.

The list of artists who speak or are spoken about is easily impressive. The 25 exclusive interviews feature prominent women such as director and writer Vicky Ireland, actress Denise Gough, playwright Winsome Pinnock, and artistic directors Emma Rice, Michelle Terry and Kumiko Mendl. These dialogues become an enlightening path into the dazzling minds of these groundbreaking women, how they work, why they do what they do, and, mostly, what inspires them daily.

Other than these first-hand reports, the book sees pieces of writing on other incredible women who have made - and are making - theatre history. Director Joan Littlewood (The Mother of Modern Theatre), actresses Judi Dench, Glenda Jackson, Audra McDonald and Chita Rivera, playwrights Caryl Churchill and Gcina Mhlophe, producers Nica Burns and Sonia Friedman are only a few of the names featured.

Role models, challenges and practices sit side by side with funny anecdotes and crucial nuggets of theatre history. While the language is, as expected, not exceptionally consistent in style due to the various people "speaking", it's easy to be compelled by the contents even when it's at its most verbose.

If there's one thing editor Cheryl Robson puts in perspective it's how white theatre was in the past and still is. While there clearly is an attempt at broadening the spectrum of theatre-makers - and a good one that is - of the 50, only one out of five is a person of colour. Of course, this is the byproduct of a racist industry, and books like this are a visual reminder of the deep need to keep the conversation going.

50 Women in Theatre is published by Aurora Metro and out now.


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