Welcome to our annual January run-down of the theatre productions that we’re most looking forward to – we don’t know if all of these shows will definitely pass the Bechdel test yet, but we hereby speculate that most of them will ace it.
After 2017 proved to be erm… Challenging? Busy? Intense? Exciting? A Lot, basically, for feminists everywhere. This has given creatives a lot to reflect on and carry on to in 2018, and the year in theatre is already off to a buzzing beginning. The shows at the top of our to-see list have already opened, so get your skates on to catch ‘Lobster’ and ‘Rita, Sue and Bob Too’, with ‘There or Here’ and ‘Calm Down Dear’ opening soon. They’ll all be excellent New Years-blues chasers.
For those of you without a spare moment in January, we’re looking ahead further into the future with plenty of recommendations to get us through the dark months and then spring into summer when we’ll be back with some choice Edinburgh fringe picks.
If you’re after regular updates as we discover more shows that pass the Bechdel test with flying colours, and some feministically inclined reviews of these shows once we’ve seen them, follow us on twitter, instagram, facebook, and subscribe to our podcast.
Lobster Theatre503 until Jan 20
A love story where the protagonists are two women in a relationship with each other? And it’s NOT an LGBTQ+ “issue play” but a sweet rom-com with a quirky sense of observational humour at its heart? We’re sold! ‘Lobster’ explores what happens when opposite personalities attract, when #relationshipgoals are not always shared, and the effects of mental health problems on couples. It’s a strong start to the year from 503 who have two more plays coming up this season: ‘Her Not Him’ and ‘Juniper & Jules’, which both centre queer women. How refreshing it will be to sit down to watch ‘Lobster’ and know it’s not a one-off chance at representation for women who love women at this theatre!
Rita, Sue and Bob Too Royal Court until Jan 27
This production came close to being overshadowed by the controversy over its removal and subsequent return to the Royal Courts programme in the wake of allegations against Out of Joint’s former artistic director. Having been reinstated after some excellent listening by the Royal Court’s Vicky Featherstone, Andrea Dunbur’s authorial voice in ‘Rita, Sue..’ is allowed to shine brightly and distinctively through the murky shadow that threatened to surround this production, and through the decades that have passed since it premiered. Dunbar’s play, more than just a shocking relic of the 80s, registers now as a vitally relevant and nuanced commentary on issues of power and sexuality. It’s clear that the cast creative team have a deep and authentic connection with its roots, and a confidence in the script that comes from a year of touring the show, as well as an immense trust in Dunbar’s truth. This year’s earliest must see.
If you like this: The Royal Court is also hosting The Andrea Project on Saturday Jan 20th. A day of free events inspired by the life, work and legacy of Andrea Dunbar.
Calm Down Dear Camden People’s Theatre until Sunday Feb 4
The always awesome ‘Calm Down Dear’ festival of feminist theatre at Camden People’s Theatre is back and as necessary as ever. Headlining this year is one of our absolute feminist faves Racheal Ofori, following up on her one-woman show ‘Portrait’ (which we spoke about on our podcast in December) with a new piece called ‘So Many Reasons’ (which is also going to be at Ovalhouse and On Tour, if you can’t make it to Camden People’s Theatre).
There or Here The Park 23 Jan – 17 Feb
The company behind 2013’s hit show ‘Yellow Face’, Special Relationship productions (a company set up to give greater exposure to under-represented groups in theatre) are back with ‘There or Here’: a relationship comedy with a serious issue at its heart. This new play by Jennifer Maisel tells the story of an American couple who travel to India in search of a surrogate to carry their child.
Subscribe to our podcast to hear more from Rakhee Thakrar who we’ve just interviewed about her role in the show for our upcoming January episode.
See you there: Bechdel Theatre is hosting a post-show conversation after ‘There or Here’ on Feb 1st, where you can join us in a relaxed gathering to talk with other audience members and some of the creative team about themes of the play.
VAULT Festival Jan 24 – Mar 18
With a 52% gender split in favour of women, pickings are rich if you’re seeking feminist theatre in this year’s super-sized VAULT Festival. We’ll be there with stickers, highlighting which shows pass the #BechdelTest, and there will surely be more added to the list of shows on our radar as we discover them, so keep an eye on our twitter, facebook and instagram and an ear to our podcast.
First Picks, in chronological order to help you plan your festival – you’re welcome: Fuck You Pay Me (24 – 28 Jan), For A Black Girl (24 – 28 Jan) The Breaks In You and I (31 Jan – 4 Feb), Madonna or Whore (31 Jan – Feb 4), The Internet Was Made For Adults (Feb 7 – 11), Finding Fassbender (Feb 14 – 15), The Vagina Dialogues (Feb 14-18), I Have A Mouth And I Will Scream (Feb 14 – 18), Elsa (Feb 14 – 18) The Quantum Physics of My Heart (21 – 25 Feb), Borderline (Feb 24), Split (Feb 28 – Mar 4), Good Girl (Feb 28 – Mar 4), Boots (7 – 11 Mar), Things That Do Not C(o)unt (14 – 18 Mar).
Into The Numbers Finborough Theatre Jan 2 – 27th
This European premiere of ‘Into the Numbers’ commemorates the 80th anniversary of the Nanking massacre. A “theatrical exploration of the philosophical and psychological implications of researching genocide, as well as the toll media saturation plays in the process”, the play centres around a lecture by Iris Chang, who wrote a book about the massacre, and later committed suicide. The production features an impressive cast, including the wonderful Jennifer Lim, who appeared in our ‘Bechdel Testing Life’ show at The Bunker in July 2017.
Oranges and Elephants Hoxton Hall 23 Jan – 10 Feb
Former East-End Music hall (restored in 2015) Hoxton Hall’s spring season is titled ‘Female Parts’ – so-called because all the shows in their next three month’s programme have an all-female creative cast and creative team. Headlining is ‘Oranges and Elephants’: a new musical, in a Victorian England setting appropriate to its atmospheric venue, about two rival female gangs involved in a turf-war.
Five women called Betty, each played by a mega-talented performers, from West End star Johnnie Fiori to cabaret darling Lucy McCormick, will collide in this “joyously anarchic” show, which promises to reject shame and stereotype and “shatter lacquered femininity into a thousand glittering pieces” at Southwark playhouse from January 24th. We can’t think of a better way to start the new year.
Bonus: Southwark are hosting a number of excellent looking post-show events alongside this production – of particular interest is Jan 26th’s #SecondHalf post-show panel which features some of our #feministfave playwrights (including previous podcast guest Yolanda Mercy) talking about how they provoke rage on stage.
96 Festival at Clapham Omnibus 2 – 28 Feb
Clapham Omnibus’ festival of LGBTQ+ Theatre is named after, and in celebration of, the year in which nearby Clapham Common hosted the Pride march after-party. The programme, which seems on first look to be intriguingly experimental and refreshingly filled with women’s stories, includes Jenifer Toksvig’s solo conversation-musical about Bisexuality, Stella Duffy’s improvised show about Death. and Amie Taylor’s children’s show about two princesses finding each other, Once Upon A City.
Rejoicing At Her Wondrous Vulva The Young Woman Applauded Herself Ovalhouse Feb 21-23
Writer/performer Bella Heesom is reunited with the team behind her verbosely titled ‘My World Has Exploded A Little Bit’, which stimulated both our intellect and our heartstrings at Edinburgh Fringe in 2016. ‘Rejoicing…’ is an exploration of sexuality, via an investigation into the connection between the brain and the clitoris. The show’s short run at Ovalhouse in Februrary is the first of what we hope will be many chances to catch Bella’s new show in 2018.
Jubilee Lyric Hammersmith 15 Feb ‐ 10 Mar
Following a successful run in Manchester, ‘Jubilee’ (an updated adaptation of the 1978 cult film of the same name) brings its punk rock riot to London. Starring alongside Toyah Willcox are a fabulous and ferocious band of gender warriors including performance artist Travis Alabanza and founding member of Pecs Drag Kings collective Temi Wilkey.
Breaking Loose Festival Bread & Roses Theatre Feb 18 – 25
A much needed “Festival of Intersectionality and Solidarity” from the Bread and Roses artistic director Tessa Hart’s theatre company Gobin Baby. The programme has not been announced yet but if the premise is anything to go by the this could be a highlight of this London’s feminist theatre calendar.
The Great Wave National Theatre 10 March – 14 April
A family tragedy with a global political dimension, set in Japan and North Korea. Not only are we thrilled to see a mother/daughter/sister relationship at the centre of a story with international significance, but we’re super psyched for the incredible team that are bringing the story to life. The Great Wave will be directed by Tricycle Theatre’s artistic Indhu Rubasingham, with movement direction by Polly Bennett – the woman behind the groundbreaking physicality of ‘People Places and Things’ (and co-founder of The Mono Box), with a cast that features Frances Mayli McCann who was part of the phenomenal ensemble of women who made ‘Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour’ one of our favourite shows of recent years at the National. Speaking of The Mono Box: we’re hosting a workshop for actors there on Tues January 30th. It’s going to be fun. Come along if you like passing the Bechdel test on stage.
Caroline or Change Hampstead Theatre 12 Mar – 21 April
If you missed this Olivier award-winning musical when it sold out at Chichester last year, now’s your chance to see it in London with Sharon D. Clarke reprising her acclaimed performance as the title character at Hampstead Theatre. With 5 star reviews across the board it’s not hard to imagine that this show has a West End transfer on the cards – so catch it if you can before the ticket prices soar.
Nine Night National Theatre 21 April – 26 May
Making her debut as a writer, having previously appeared on stage as an actor at the Royal Court and RSC, Natasha Gordon brings to the National stage a gathering of several generations of one family as they take part in the Jamaican Nine Night Wake ritual in mourning for their mother and grandmother, Gloria. Another excellent team taking to the Dorfman stage for this show, with a cast including Cecilia Noble, Franc Ashman, and Rebekah Murrell.
Leave Taking The Bush 24 May – 30 June
This new production of Winsome Pinnock’s hit 1991 play is part of yet another fantastic season at the Bush, which continues to go from strength-to-strength after its refurbishment under the artistic directorship of Madani Younis, for whom representation means anything but cynical “box-ticking” and more like a driving force and a reason to make theatre – to reflect the world we live in. ‘Leave Taking’ in particular is special as a 30 year-old play being staged at a theatre which normally specialises in brand new writing, which Younis has chosen to direct himself. We’re looking forward to seeing how the play, which depicts the relationships between an immigrant Mother and her English-born daughters, resonates with today’s audience.
Grotty The Bunker May 1 – 26
Fresh from the success of their ‘Damsel Develops’ project which showcased the work of female theatre directors at The Bunker in London Bridge, uber-feminist theatre company Damsel Productions are returning to the venue with a “dark and savage” brand new play about the London lesbian scene, written by Izzy Tennyson and directed by Damsel’s Artistic Director Hannah Hauer-King, who Bechdel fans may remember directed one of the short plays we showcased as part of Bechdel Testing Life at The Bunker.
Fun Home The Young Vic 18 June – 1 Sept
This is the one we’ve been waiting for! Since discovering that our hero Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir ‘Fun Home’, about her relationship with her Father had been adapted for the stage in 2013 we’ve been dreaming of the day that UK audiences would have the chance to see it. It’s a soul-searingly honest story of love, loss, and coming out in small-town America filled with a suitably tender and heart-swelling songs. Writers Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori both won Tony awards for their work on the show which also won Best Musical, and was nominated in almost every category in 2015. If you see one musical this year, make it Fun Home.
Bring It On Southwark Playhouse 2 Aug – Sept 1
Fans of the 2000 cheerleader comedy movie, and the work of Lin-Manuel Miranda (‘Hamilton’ and ‘In The Heights’) should be very excited. ‘Bring It On: The Musical’ was first shown in the US in 2011 where it gained momentum on tour and a Broadway transfer. Get your tickets now, if the popularity of Miranda’s musicals on London stages is anything to go by, this will be hugely in-demand and tons of fun.
Emilia Shakespeare’s Globe 10 Aug – 1 Sept
The Globe has retained its commitment to gender-balanced casting post-Emma Rice and the new artistic director, esteemed actor Michelle Terry, has some interesting ideas including director-less ensemble productions which put the performers in the driving seat of several well-known Shakespeare plays. However, the announcement that peaked our interest the most in this summer’s season was a brand new play by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, to be directed by Nicole Charles, about the life of Emilia Bassano: A 16th Century poet who by the sounds of it deserves a much bigger name for herself in the history books than being known as someone who “might have been” the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
Sylvia The Old Vic 1 – 22 Sept
Co-written by Kate Prince and Priya Parmar, this new musical will use dance, hip-hop, soul and funk music to tell the life of Sylvia Pankhurst and the role she played in the Suffragette movement. The production co-incides with the 100 year anniversary of the passing of the Representation of the People Act in 1918 which gave some women the right to vote for the first time, and hopefully will provide a good moment to reflect on how far society has really come in achieving true equality, and stimulation in considering what still needs to be done.
Interested in the link between artists and activism? The National Theatre is holding an Equality and Arts panel discussion on Feb 2nd chaired by Samira Ahmed, about how arts and culture have influenced and supported the equality movement in the past and today.
Did we miss something off? If you see a show that you think deserves championing, then get in touch with us on social media or drop us an email.