Heavenly creatures? Saddleworth Players’ production to spotlight new era for women in theatre

WHAT did you watch at Christmas? All the latest depressing shenanigans in Walford and Weatherfield? Dr Who, What, Where, Why and When? Maybe Strictly gone off dancing?

Squeezed in, almost unseen between the supposed ratings winners, was a repeat of a programme first aired last June.

Nothing Like a Dame showcased the lives and careers of four of our finest actresses: Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith, Eileen Atkins and Judy Dench. All, of course, whose names are prefixed by Dame.

If, ungallantly, you add up their ages and subtract the total from 2019, then you come to an era when women had not long been able to step on stage in their own right for the first time.

It was King Charles II – a keen theatre lover – who reputedly asked why one particular performance was late starting.

The supposed reply to England’s Merry Monarch was: “Sorry sire, the player queen is still shaving.”

Men took all the leading roles for their own and the opposite sex. But this male monopoly was challenged as a nation freed itself from the shackles of Oliver Cromwell’s puritanism.

And it’s fitting after a year celebrating women receiving the vote for the first time, Saddleworth Players open 2019 with a play dedicated to the ground-breaking efforts of five actresses in the 1660s whose lineage runs through to the great Dames.

Playhouse Creatures, which runs from February 2-9 at Millgate Arts Centre in Delph, chronicles the lives of five of the most famous names of the day: Nell Gwyn, Elizabeth Farley, Rebecca Marshall, Doll Common and Mary Bretterton.

Written in 1993 by April De Angelis, Playhouse Creatures has undergone various adaptations since then, including one version with parts for men.

It is women only for the Players’ production directed by Carol Davies, who also brought Blake Morrison’s We are Three Sisters to the Millgate stage last June.

Greenfield-based Carol was Head of Drama at Oldham Hulme Grammar for 24 years until her retirement in November 2017.

“I first came across Playhouse Creatures when it came on the A Level syllabus,” explained the wife of former Saddleworth MP Chris Davies.

“To get on the syllabus after only being written in 1993 means it is good. 

“I used snippets in student work but the play deals women from practically every decade so, it needs a range of ages and when you are asking an 18-year-old to play a 60-year-old, it’s quite hard.

“But I remember tossing the title of the play towards Saddleworth Players a few years ago and saying you ought to have a read of it.

“For me, it’s still very pertinent today. One of the characters is retiring because she is perceived to be too old to be on the stage.

Carol Davies

“You look a someone like Glenda Jackson who went into politics because she said the roles had dried up. So, what’s changed?

“There’s the assumption too that these women were available to theatre patrons who thought it was their right to walk into dressing rooms and watch actresses undress.

“We are nearly 400 years on but there remain a remarkable number of parallels.

“It is such a wonderful, humorous interesting play. It reminds us we have come along way but at the same time there are familiar problems.”

• For tickets go online www.ticketsource.co.uk/millgateartscentre or ring 01457 874644 or email   boxoffice@saddleworthplayers.org.uk

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