In November 2013 it was widely reported that some Swedish cinemas had introduced a rating system based on the Bechdel test: to gain an A rating, a film must contain two female characters who engage in a conversation that is not about a man. Few would dispute that the representation of women in film is not currently equal to that of men – it’s interesting to read that huge movies such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II, Avatar, and, incredibly, all 10 hours of the Lord of the Rings trilogy fail spectacularly; yet it’s also open to criticism, with possible suggestions that it oversimplifies the situation or becomes too reductive to effectively address gender equality. Particularly startling is how long the idea has been around: it was first devised by Alison Bechdel in the 1980s but certainly strikes a chord today. Wherever you sit in the debate, it’s a fascinating test that provokes important discussion.
So, how can the Bechdel test be applied in theatre? More to the point, is it needed? The unavoidable answer seems to be yes, and equality on – and behind – the stage has been under the microscope more than ever recently. But as Lyn Gardner wrote recently, change is a-coming: one of the companies contributing to this move for change is Whoop ‘n’ Wail, with its new showcase, Represents… Featuring short works from both established and emerging writers, the only rule is that each piece must pass the Bechdel test.
Founders Ali Kemp and Deborah Klayman are keen to reinforce that this is an inclusive programme of writing, and future showcases will take open submissions. As Deborah said in a recent interview with The Public Reviews, “It is very important to us that this is not a ‘girls club’. Male writers and directors have just as much of a part to play in improving the number of significant roles for women on stage – it is imperative they are part of the conversation.” While the showcase has been in the planning stages for a while, Ali and Deborah have also been inspired by Emma Watson and the ‘He for She’ campaign. With this in mind, the first showcase, The Launch, comprises work by a mixture of female and male writers and directors. Moreover, it’s not a preaching lecture in gender equality: Whoop ‘n’ Wail aims to present “entertaining theatre with a social conscience”, promising humour alongside a platform for new voices and a challenge to inequality.
I’m intrigued to see how different playwrights will approach the challenge; but of course, it shouldn’t really be a challenge to incorporate female characters into a play in this way. I’m hoping for a refreshing, entertaining and thought-provoking night’s theatre – check back here when I review the showcase after seeing it on 24 November.