Haydn Gwynne and Rosemary Squire call for quotas on women in theatre

Haydn Gwynne in Becky Shaw at the Almeida Theatre in 2011. Photo: Hugo Glendinning
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Actor Haydn Gwynne and Ambassador Theatre Group joint chief executive Rosemary Squire have called for quotas on the number of jobs for women in theatre, in order to combat the “frightening” gender imbalance in the industry.

Gwynne, who will soon star alongside Tamsin Greig in Women On the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, said there was a gender imbalance “not just in writing, but in acting, lighting design, as directors… the whole thing”.

She was speaking alongside Squire at a Parliament Week event – Women on the Verge: a Discussion – in addition to Labour MP Helen Goodman and Geoffrey Colman, head of acting at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

Gwynne said: “I never understand this objection to all-women shortlists or quotas or whatever. I’m sorry, you guys have had all-male shortlists for how many thousands of years? I think you can give us a few all-female shortlists just to redress the balance.”

Gwynne also revealed she had worked with only one female director during her theatre career, which was “out of London, 18 years ago”.

Squire described the difficulty women have finding acting work as “frightening”.

She added: “I think until you have more women writers, who write about their experience and the world they see, there won’t be more parts for women. If you check down the Radio Times, what we see every night of the week on the TV does not represent the world. It still does not.

“I have to say: let’s have some quotas. It’s not true that there aren’t plenty of able women.”

Citing musicals Women On the Verge and Made in Dagenham, Squire went on to say that there were shows with strong parts for women in the West End, before Gwynne interjected: “They all have exclusively male creative teams, of course.”

Shadow culture minister Goodman also said the lack of women in theatre was “not about creativity” but instead related to “networks and social structures”.

Colman said the problem was partly due to a restrictive “theatrical canon”, in which women are reduced to “maids and wenches and serving girls”.

The discussion came after the launch of Women Centre Stage earlier this month, which is a five-month project backed by leading drama figures – including Squire – that aims to achieve better representation of women in theatre.