8 facts you didn't know about women in theatre

From the percentage of female characters in Shakespeare plays to England’s first actress

Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap
Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap

It was illegal for women to act on the English stage until 1660

Yes that's right. The church forbade the appearance of women on the stage, although on the continent things were very different. It was only when King Charles II – a theatre-lover no less – granted a charter to Drury Lane and made it a requirement that all female parts should be played by women.

The first female actress on the English stage was Margaret Hughes (1630 – 1719) playing Desdemona in 1660

Peter Lely's portrait of Margaret Hughes
Peter Lely's portrait of Margaret Hughes

Other great early actresses include Nell Gwynne, Anne Bracegirdle and Elizabeth Barry.

Less than 16 per cent of Shakespearean characters are women

Rosalind, from As You Like It is the biggest role for women in the Bard's cannon, but her lines come in at 721 which, when you compare it to Hamlet – the biggest male role with 1,506 lines – is pretty dire.

The first woman to have a play performed on the main stage at the National Theatre (Olivier Theatre) was Rebecca Lenkiewicz with Her Naked Skin in 2008 – only ten years ago!

When we interviewed her in 2016 and asked her about Her Naked Skin, she said: "I was proud that the subject matter was the suffragettes. I was proud that the story was coming to the fore because I felt incredibly passionate about it."

If you include the Trafalgar Studios, there are only three plays currently on in the West End written by women; The Mousetrap, Frozen and Good Girl

Two, at least, with strong female leads.

On average women account for 65 per cent of the theatre audience

According to a 2016 survey, more women than men buy theatre tickets.

Natasha Gordon
Natasha Gordon
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

You’ll have to wait until April to find a play on in a Society of London Theatre venue written by a woman of colour; Nine Night by Natasha Gordon at the National Theatre

Directed by Roy Alexander Weise, the play is set around a traditional Jamaican Nine Night Wake.

Only four years ago Tonic Theatre reported that just 37 per cent of stage roles were for women and the work of women playwrights made up a mere 8 per cent of staged productions

Read more about Tonic's great work with theatres on equality here.