Your say / Bristol old vic

“Gender-defined spaces are necessary”

By chloe elwood, Tuesday May 23, 2017

At Bristol Old Vic, we go to great lengths to welcome everyone into our theatre. But on Friday May 26, you’ll only be welcome at our brilliant production of Medea if you identify as a woman.

If you know the story of Medea, you’ll know that Euripides’ play is set many years after the events of Medea’s wild romance with Jason and is perhaps the first example of a writer imagining what happens after the fairytale has ended.

He was interested in what happened to the stormy, sexy and powerful Medea after she followed her husband to a new land, had children and became a housewife. He wanted to know what that compromise would do to her sense of self-hood, and how she would react when her husband, years later, looks at her and finds that she is not the glamorous creature he married. And how she would respond when his mind strayed to someone else sexy, powerful and younger…

Director George Mann, whose work created a Bristol-wide stir in Pink Mist, knew he wanted to explore this text with an all-female cast. He also wanted to weave Medea’s story into that of Maddy, a modern woman facing a custody battle for her children after a betrayal similar to Jason’s, which is where phenomenal Bristol writer Chino Odimba comes in.

George and Chino are ground-breaking creative forces to be reckoned with, and this experimental casting encouraged us to wonder what would it be like for that brilliant, all-female cast to play to an all-female audience, in a building staffed by women. Would it empower responses which were otherwise tempered by the presence of a husband, a boyfriend, a father, a son, a brother or a male friend? We felt that it was an experiment worth trying.

We were immediately beset by questions: would we do the same thing if a piece of work was as overtly concerned with male-gendered issues? Would it be disrespectful to individuals who don’t define themselves according to a binary concept of gender? And, crucially: is it necessary?

We tried our thinking out on Bristol Women’s Voice, who immediately suggested that they chair a debate after the show. Their respect for the questions above notwithstanding, they left us in no doubt about the continuing need to create space for women to come together and support one another in exploring sensitive issues, like the ones faced by Medea and Maddy in the play.

They argued that gender-defined spaces are a necessary way to explore some key issues in our society. While we still have a gender pay gap, it is necessary. While women are the victims of 85% of domestic violence, it is necessary. When the government policy towards cutting benefits and social services is still overwhelmingly impacting on women, it is necessary. While the leader of the free world boasts about being able to do whatever he likes with women before signing away pro-choice legislation, it is necessary.

Of course, there is still a need for these issues to be debated between men and women too, and not for a second do we intend for this kind of polarised event to be a feature of every production at Bristol Old Vic. But we would certainly consider it again for any piece which is primarily concerned with issues that affect any particular group.

Theatre is, and has been since the days of Ancient Greece, a forum for debate, but also at times for expressing solidarity. And I hope, if you feel this event is for you, that you’ll join us to see how this unique opportunity influences you.

The post-show debate will be chaired by Jane Duffus (Bristol Women’s Voice and founder of the South West’s only all-female comedy event, What The Frock! Comedy), and will feature Dr Naomi Paxton, Cllr Estella Tincknell and the writer of Medea’s modern story, Chino Odimba.

Find out more and book tickets:

Chloe Elwood is executive producer at the Bristol Old Vic.


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