100 GREAT PLAYS FOR WOMEN: Lucy Kerbel
Nick Hern Books
ISBN: 978 1 84842 185 1
Rec Price: 10.99
Review: Alexander Ray Edser, 12 12 13
A book much bigger than the sum of its parts.
Here’s a very interesting book! There’s always a problem that many schools and colleges have with an imbalance of young women to young men. On the face of it Lucy Kerbel’s book will be a great help to teachers and lecturers (which it will) but the book’s interest goes far beyond this.
Kerbel has, as the title suggests, collected together synopses of 100 great plays – not for all women casts, but where women are right at the centre of the play. This enables her to cast her net widely, but then she also restricts herself to one play per included playwright; so the range is even greater.
And herein lies the book’s great appeal. It is, either by accident or design, a marvellous record or social history of society and its attitude and representation of women through the ages. The collection includes most of the modern writers we would expect, but it’s also full of surprises, discoveries and jogs to our memory of plays we shouldn’t have forgotten because they have, for a brief time, gone out of fashion.
Such an example of this is Genet’s THE MAIDS – a tense, highly charged three hander . . . How could I have let that one fade from my memory? But Kerbel goes back to Aristophanes. She mentions LYSiSTRATA only in passing – her choice is WOMEN IN PARLIAMENT (or ASSEMBLY). Whether Aristophanes is satirising the men or the women or both is anyone’s guess; whichever it’s a glorious quirky, earthy romp for the women, old and young, and deliciously vulgar. Alongside this one might set Oscar Wilde’s LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN – one of a number of Wilde’s plays exposing society’s ill-treatment of women.
Each of Kerbel’s synopses is accompanied by a comment section. This is always informative and particularly important with some of her discovery writers. Like Cicely Mary Hamilton (b 1871) with JUST TO GET MARRIED.
Kerbel sets out a powerful collection; with such writing over such a long period of time, it’s surprising that it’s taken us to long to begin to approach gender equality. Why, you might ask? . . . . Perhaps the answer’s to be found in these plays