Life at The Little Theatre column: Gender balance is key

Steel Magnolias 1993 (courtesy of SDC/Fletcher Hill Photography) By Jennifer Corcoran and Andrew Sloman The month of March is upon us, the first month in the early Roman calendar and a month of new beginnings.

We can see it in nature, and celebrate it in festivals. March is also Women’s History Month in the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia and International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8 all around the world. It can be challenging to find interesting parts for women to play as it is universally acknowledged that there are fewer complex roles out there, which can be a challenge when selecting plays.

At the Southport Dramatic Club we strive to achieve a gender balance for our performers and our directors as well as ensuring there are fulfilling parts for all players.

Occasionally a play will come along that only features female characters and the roles within are hotly contested by our wonderfully talented actors.

One such production by Yorkshire born playwright John Godber rounded off our 80th anniversary season, and was performed in our bar area a little over twenty years ago. In 1977 Godber had written the play Bouncers which featured four doormen on a shift with the actors also taking on various roles of the characters they encounter.  Shakers followed in 1985, co-written by Jane Thornton.

Shakers Re-stirred (courtesy of SDC/Fletcher Hill Photography)

Both pieces were originally performed by Hull Truck Theatre Company and were updated in 1991 to tackle out of date references and we tackled Shakers Re-stirred in June 2001.  Four actors played cocktail waitresses Carol, Adele, Nicky and Mel who introduce themselves as working in a bar that’s worse than hell.

The actors take on a large number of roles of the men and women they speak of and serve throughout their shift. There are no additional costumes and little in the way of props so characters must be established swiftly with body language and vocal change.

Between the amusing and well observed re-enactments there is pathos as each waitress also shares their inner hopes and fears via monologue.

Another play well known for its mix of emotion and humour is Steel Magnolias. Robert Harling wrote the play in 1987 after losing his sister due to complications from Type 1 diabetes and it was later turned into a hit movie in 1989. Shelby Eatenton is based on Harling’s sister Susan and the piece features the run up to her wedding and how the other five women we meet in their close knit Louisiana community cope with her loss.

Other characters are her mother M’Lynn, cantankerous neighbour Ouiser, mayor’s widow Clairee, salon owner Truvy and mysterious newcomer, Annelle.

Steel Magnolias was a feature of our 1993 season and was so beloved it was also performed in October 2015. Some months earlier in June 2015, we had another all-female cast for the modern one act play The Regina Monologues.  This time, the play was also written by women; Jenny Wafer and Rebecca Russell. The show is a modern re-imagining of the six wives of Henry VIII.  None of the women interact during the play, but instead tell their tale during a series of sequential monologues.  The dark observations of some of the exploitation these women endured is tempered with witty one liners and the positive outcomes for some of the surviving spouses.

Did you see any of these shows? We continue to invite you to share your memories with us. If you have any programmes from SDC shows you have seen, we would be grateful for the opportunity to take a copy.

To share your memories, keep up to date with news and plans for the Little Theatre in Southport, Merseyside and find out the latest information on when we may be able to open click here or follow on Facebook and Instagram.

You can also see some special lockdown performances and a virtual theatre tour on our new YouTube Channel – search for Southport Little Theatre.