Don’t mention the M word!

Film director Georgie Weedon’s journey into feminist theatre.

As a director of factual movies (I have stopped saying documentaries following Michael Moore’s recent brilliant advice), the opportunity to direct a play was thrilling and a little terrifying.

I met Ali and Debs for the first time, in a cafe in Covent Garden in March. I had seen an advert calling for directors for a night of new plays that would pass the Bechdel TestWhoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…Mayday.

To me the appeal was two-fold: I am dazzled by Mark Rylance’s performance in Wolf Hall but bored by the number of male characters wafting about the screen in some kind of Tudor stag night saga; And then those ugly stats about the dismal number of female directors and lack of trust in female-led films and theatre.

Ali and Debs weren’t just ruing the situation, they were doing something about it. I wanted in.

I was given three plays to read and chose The M Word by Brian Redmond. In the world of the play, women are not allowed to talk about men at all and a KGB-type surveillance drops in when our two lead characters wander into what seems to be a conversation about a man. It had humour and a point.

Now the task was to get the play on its feet, to find the right actors to bring the characters and tone of the piece to life, to push and tug at the script until we had found its shape. I cast Sharon Maughan, Amy Cooke Hodgson and Jonah Fazel.

The M Word by Brian Redmond. Amy Cooke Hodgson & Sharon Maughan

The M Word by Brian Redmond                           Amy Cooke Hodgson & Sharon Maughan

Sharon’s career was somewhat terrifying to a newbie stage director. She has starred with Hayley Mills in Flame Trees of Ithaca, countless other stand out films, performed at the National Theatre, the Royal Court and also for the Queen alongside Helen Mirren and Joan Plowright.

Equally daunting to me was Amy Cooke Hodgson, a comic genius and star of the sell-out improvised comedy group Austentatious, as well as being an accomplished director herself. And to cap it all, both dazzling performers were to be interrogated through a megaphone by the brilliant Jonah Fazel, comedy actor and artistic director of Forked Path Theatre.

All in all, they were theatre gods to me and at the start of the rehearsals I did that thing where you pretend you have it all in hand when deep down you can’t quite believe this is happening.

We had three days to rehearse at the storied Troubadour pub in Earls Court, which has a legendary artistic history of its own and it felt like the right place for our project to take shape. I had read all the books I could on the rehearsal process, from Katie Mitchell’s The Director’s Craft to John Caird’s Theatre Craft, but now it was time to do it for real.

Amy Cooke Hodgson & Sharon Maughan in The M Word

We were opening the show, which was scary but a brilliant programming decision by Ali and Debs. Our play talked about the Bechdel Test head-on in a playful tone, and the cast’s electric performances got the audience laughing and comfortable to open up to the five excellent wide-ranging pieces which followed.

Perhaps the hardest part of all, coming from directing film, is learning to accept how transient a theatre production is. You can spend months shooting a film and many more in the edit suite trying to create an atmosphere or an argument which will be watched again and again.

Theatre actors create experiences of the same intense fascination and watchability, but when the run is over everyone disbands and moves on to tell other stories. But there is a huge positive aspect to this: the constant re-engagement with texts and fellow theatre-makers means that your own imagination, and those of audiences, are challenged and delighted in new ways over and over.

I’m thrilled to have been part of Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents… and highly recommend you pop along to their next festival to get your hit of powerful, perspective-changing entertainment.

Georgie Weedon is a filmmaker, author and emerging theatre director. She runs Gingerwink Films and is a founding associate for the global arts initiative @ProjectARIADNE, profiling female theatre makers working in conflict affected areas around the world. 

My worst nightmare!

Preparing to go on stage as Katie in Madjesty for Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…Mayday, I put the finishing touches to my make up. Lipstick on and dabbed, I stood by the wings and waited for my cue. The opening music, The Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen, fired up and on stage I went.

As the lights went up there was a howl of laughter, screams and wolf whistles from a packed house. What was so funny? We hadn’t even started yet. Why were people laughing?

And as I stood there, bemused, I felt an uncomfortable draft. With horror, and hardly daring to look, I went to place my hands on my stomach, now sick with nerves. My hands were met not with the soft cotton of my blue wrap around dress but the synthetic polyester and elastane silkiness of my big black ‘Bridget Jones’ pants. I stood there, the bright stage lights staring into my blinking eyes, heart pounding and sweat slowly inching down my back.

Taking a deep breath to calm my thumping chest, I slowly opened my eyes. I found myself, rigid and slightly sticky, looking at the streams of bright sunlight streaming through my bedroom window. It was Monday morning and I was due at the theatre for the tech rehearsal. With a huge dose of relief, I chastised myself for not managing a more original anxiety dream. I am a playwright after all!

Madjesty 11

Ali Kemp, Ian Crump & Tom Neill in Madjesty by Ali Kemp & Deborah Klayman

Thankfully Represents…Mayday went without a hitch. We had packed, appreciative audiences on both nights; six, fantastically interesting plays, all including fully rounded female characters; wonderful performances, beautifully directed;  and although I did flash my big, black ‘Bridget Jones’ pants from under my cobalt blue kimono, it was rehearsed and a part of my character choice!

Debs and I would like to extend our thanks to: Writers Brian Redmond, Paul Howard, Sarah Davies, William Patterson and Lizzie Bourne; Directors Georgie Weedon, Alice Bonifacio, Marc Kelly, Janet Palmer, James Callas Ball and Paul Kevin-Taylor; Actors Sharon Maughan, Amy Cooke Hodgson, Jonah Fazel, Chinwe A Nwokolo, Bronte Tadman, Coleen Daley, Miranda Dawe, Ian Curran, Rachal Olivant, Laura Garnier, Anna Brooks-Beckman, Roberta Morris, Sophie Mackenzie, Lydia Huhne, Gerri Farrell, Tom Neill and Ian Crump; Technical support Tom Neill, Paul Kevin-Taylor, Eirik Bar and Gareth Radcliffe; Photography George Riddell; Graphic design Stewart Calladine @arty_stew; Waterloo East Theatre Gerald Armin and staff; and Sam Hall with 17percent for continued support.

OOs

  innovation   •   entertainment   •   social justice

Sharon Maughan talks to the Huffington Post about Whoop ‘n’ Wail.

Acclaimed actress Sharon Maughan talks to Carrie Armstrong about her involvement in Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…Mayday.

Sharon Maughan, The Bechdel Test & The Glaring Gender Equality Gap in British Theatre by Carrie Armstrong

Two female characters. With actual names. Talking to each other about something other than a man.

Not exactly shooting for the moon. Is it?

Read the full article here.

Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…Mayday
Waterloo East Theatre, London, SE1 8TG
Monday 27th & Tuesday 28th April 2015, 7.30pm
Tickets on sale now: £10 in advance (£12 on the door)
Box office: 020 7928 0060 / www.waterlooeast.co.uk

OOs

  innovation   •   entertainment   •   social justice