Sarah Crompton: Older actresses should not be pushed out to the margins
As a wealth of older women actresses take centre stage, Sarah Crompton applauds the trend
In the spirit of EM Forster let me summon a dose of cautious optimism and offer two cheers for the sudden and entirely welcome arrival of a great number of women – and older women at that – on our stages.
Watching the lovely, touching Flowers for Mrs Harris by Richard Taylor and Rachel Wagstaff in Sheffield this week, I was almost overwhelmed with gratitude that here, centre-stage, was not some strapping, handsome youth, or some tortured man with a mid-life crisis and a young mistress, but a bedraggled middle-aged woman with a heart of gold. Clare Burt made the character shine with goodness, also something we don't often see.
But it is the age of the character that I most welcomed – and the fact that her emergence allows a woman of a certain age a voice and an opinion. And a brilliant actress to get a job. It was the same in Caryl Churchill's Escaped Alone, at the Royal Court earlier this year; I wasn't entirely convinced by the play, but I was very happy to spend an hour or so in the company of performers of the calibre of Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham and June Watson – and watch them own the place.
There are a lot of women like me - and we deserve to be represented in the work we watch
Ditto Nick Payne's Elegy at the Donmar Warehouse, which lets the wondrous Zoe Wanamaker and Barbara Flynn – too often now squeezed into playing elderly aunts in TV dramas – strut their stuff and discuss what it is to be human for a full 90-minutes.
I know my excitement about this quiet revolution has to do with the onset of what I like to think of as late middle-age in my own life. Yet there are a lot of women like me in the audience - and we deserve to be heard and represented in the work we watch. It's also wonderful that this wealth of acting talent has a chance to continue in the full spotlight; these are great actors and they should not be pushed out to the margins.
It's in this context that yesterday's announcement of the Donmar's Shakespeare season at a new temporary theatre at King's Cross is so thrilling. From September 23, Phyllida Lloyd's Shakespeare trilogy will see Harriet Walter leading an all-female company in revivals of Julius Caesar and Henry IV and a new production of The Tempest. Women are storming the bastion of the Bard, throwing new light on the plays – and staking their claim for a different interpretation suitable for a different time to be heard.
What with Glenda Jackson about to take on Lear at the Old Vic, Tamsin Greig tackling Malvolio for the Nationaland Michelle Terry ready to give us her Henry V in Regent's Park, it feels like a proper trend. Hurrah for all that.