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.