In the recent General Election, the number of female MPs rose from 128 to 142, yet this number still only represents 22% of the Members of Parliament in the House of Commons. The timing of a season exploring the history and future of the relationship between women and politics, then, could not be more appropriate. As Women, Power And Politics opens at the Tricycle theatre, the season’s director, Indhu Rubasingham, explains to Official London Theatre how the project was conceived and the effect it has had on her:
This time last year I co-directed a series of 12 plays about Afghanistan, The Great Game, with Nicolas Kent, the Artistic Director of the Tricycle theatre. A day or two after the press day of that, he phoned me up, excited, and told me he had a great idea for another project. He had just read an article in The Times that had an image of the at-that-time Shadow Cabinet. There were hardly any women in the photo. He wanted me to follow the template of The Great Game to do a project about Women, Power And Politics.
When I started investigating, researching and thinking about what the piece should encapsulate and explore, it became apparent that if I went too wide and international with the topic of Women Power And Politics it would only skim the surface of the issue and I wouldn’t be able to delve into anything, because it’s such a broad, wide-ranging topic. As I worked, I slowly realised it would benefit from focussing specifically on Women Power And Politics in Great Britain, moving historically to the present day.
I wanted the project to be inclusive and to engage with different generations and different parts of the country, and reflected that in the writers I approached; Marie Jones, for example, is from Northern Ireland, Zinnie Harris is from Scotland and Sue Townsend is from the Midlands. Sam Holcroft, Bola Agbage and Lucy Kirkwood are the new generation of playwrights. I had already done a lot of research on various ideas, but I talked to the writers to learn what really stimulated them, what they really wanted to engage with. Sometimes they had very strong ideas themselves about the themes that excited them, and sometimes I suggested areas that weren’t being covered that would help balance the season. There are so many more writers I would have liked to have worked with; it’s impressive enough to be able to include nine writers, but there are at least another eight I could have asked.
The project has been huge; the research, the commissioning, just getting the whole idea of it off the ground. At the start we didn’t know what kind of beast it was; it takes a long time just trying to work out what that is, even what the title is going to be. Because the event encompasses theatre, cinema and the gallery, it takes an extremely long time and a lot of energy. I could only do it with the help of so many brilliant people, particularly my associate producer Zoe Ingenhaag who has been amazing. The ambition of Nicolas Kent is a real driving force. He has got this attitude of ‘Let’s just do it, let’s just go for it, let’s go for these really big projects even though the building is tiny.’ The Tricycle is a very small staffed building, but everyone goes for it because of his vision and ambition.
The issues tackled by Women Power And Politics are something I think for the last 10 years we’ve become very complacent about and assumed we’re all fine. We have thought there was no problem with women in positions of power. In creating this season I have realised that we are not where we thought we would be. Actually it has been a wake up call for me, it has made me realise we are not as far ahead as we would like to think we are. I think that’s what’s brilliant about theatre, you’re always learning. If you come into a project thinking you know what it is, you shut yourself off to new discoveries and new ideas. It has made me look at my own working practices and how I operate in society and in my working life. With the announcement of the new cabinet, people are suddenly becoming aware that this is something that needs to be looked at. This project isn’t to educate but it is to pose questions, to provoke and to put the issue on the table and say, “Shall we talk about this?”
Director, Women Power And Politics