Equal roles: Award-winning playwright Tanika Gupta has criticised the “old boys’ network” that controls the UK’s theatre industry and has called on more women to be employed as artistic directors around the country.
Gupta, whose credits include White Boy for the Soho Theatre and Sugar Mummies for the Royal Court, was speaking at a conference held last week to address the employment and representation of women in theatre and television, in both performance and behind the scenes roles.
Called Vamps, Vixens and Feminists: The Elephant in the Room, the event was organised by Sphinx Theatre Company, with Gupta sitting on a panel addressing roles for women in television and theatre and how the portrayal of women on stage is often not representative of real life.
She said: “Generally, in terms of the world of theatre, I would say that until there are more artistic directors who are women – or at least women-loving male artistic directors – it is not going to change and unfortunately remain an old boys’ network. That is what it is throughout television and theatre.”
Her views were shared by playwright Colin Teevan, whose adaptation of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt for the National Theatre of Scotland recently ran at the Barbican Centre in London.
He said he noticed a particular difference working outside the capital, where he said there were more female artistic directors. He claimed that the only female artistic director of a major London venue at the moment is Lisa Goldman, at the Soho Theatre.
On the writing panel, Gupta also expressed her frustrations at being asked to change the ages of older female characters she had created for television.
She revealed that Channel 4 had asked her to alter the age ranges of female characters for a TV adaptation of her play Sugar Mummies, which opened at the Royal Court in 2006.
The stage version starred Lynda Bellingham, but Gupta said: “The first thing they [Channel 4] said to me was, ‘Can you make the women characters younger? Can you make them 29 or 30? I said no, because that would have defeated the whole object of the play.”
Tracy Brabin, whose credits include Shameless and Hollyoaks, and who is also on the television committee of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, agreed with Gupta.
“It is really hard to get the commissioners – the gatekeepers – to accept that there are stories and plots that we have that are really sexy and exciting about women over 30 and their lives. I have certainly been in that situation where people have said to me, ‘Can you make these characters younger and sexier?’.”