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Clever production exposes bias in theatre

Clever production exposes bias in theatre

1 by Sarita RAO 3 min. 20.03.2023
"The Writer" is a challenge to the male gaze that dominates the world of theatre and film
A play within a play takes you beyond the writing into what happens to a work when it's "translated" by the director
A play within a play takes you beyond the writing into what happens to a work when it's "translated" by the director
Photo credit: Jeannine Unsen

A clever look at the patriarchy of the theatrical world in Ella Hickson’s play The Writer is what Luxembourgish director Claire Thill brings in a play in which carefully thought through visual elements bring alive the dialogue.

The play opens with when a young woman returns to the theatre to collect her bag and meets an older director who asks her what she thinks of the show. In the repartee that follows between the two, the woman - a playwright - exposes all the usual stereotypes of the roles and characters of women.

“I walk on stage and the first thing people think is – how old is she? How hot is she? How [***] is she? You walk on stage – they think – what’s he going to say? What’s he going to do?” she argues.

Just as you’re wondering what will happen next, the real writer and director come down the aisles with microphones, and reveal you have been watching a play within a play. The writer and director on stage, are in fact actors.

Attention to every small detail

Here Thill’s visual direction is priceless, with the male director constantly cutting off the female writer and deriding her scriptwriting capabilities, and the female actress who plays the writer, unable to respond to any of the audience questions (which are, of course, planted) for want of a microphone.

Hickson’s play takes a long, hard look at contemporary modern theatre and turns it on its head to show a different narrative from the male gaze we are so often shown in stage productions.

"The play juxtaposes the male and female gaze. It deals with sexism, the traps of patriarchy, female expression and the blurring lines between personal and professional, fiction and reality,” Thill says in the programme booklet.

An intimacy coach was brought in to help with the more explicit scenes
An intimacy coach was brought in to help with the more explicit scenes
Photo: Jeannine Unsen

The Writer also explores the constant pressure to deliver predictable narratives that put “bums on seats” and deliver profit, as the director is keen to point out. It shows how female playwrights lose control of their narratives when they sell their stories to the film industry – also male-dominated and profit-driven.

Use of intimacy coach

The cast – Jenny Beacraft as the writer, Daron Yates as the actor playing the director and the boyfriend, and Celine Camara as the actress playing the girlfriend and the member of the audience who asks questions, have very good comic timing, and handle the sex scenes, which are quite explicit, very well.

Thill used an intimacy coach to ensure that the cast were comfortable with these scenes. For Thill, “so much in the play revolves around consent and exposing the players to vulnerable positions both in physical and emotional ways, in that vein, it was paramount for us to work with an intimacy coordinator, a practise that has yet to become standard in the Luxembourg theatre scene.”

Philipp Alfons Heitmann is marvellous as the domineering director, the one that the play is based on, who manipulates and cajoles Claire Thill as the writer, to deliver something that suits his world view of how a play should look.

What does the writer do? The delivery of this last scene is the icing on the cake, representing all the clichés we see on TV and on stage. Hickson’s play celebrates the written word - as you would expect - but Thill's direction brings those words alive with small gestures.  

Where and when?

You can watch The Writer at Théâtre des Capucins 21,22, 24, 28, 30 and 31 March and on 1 April. All performances start at 20.00 and the running time is just under two hours.

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