Frankly, I prefer Shakespeare

Clare Rivers-Mohan 12 May 2011

Despite opening in 1855, the ADC Theatre, Cambridge didn’t allow women on-stage until 1935.

It was only after 28 years of women acting in Cambridge, that feathers were ruffled by a 1963 undergraduate performance of Espresso Bongo, in which six semi-nude girls appeared on-stage. The Proctor, who allowed the performance to go ahead, was heard to comment “Frankly, I prefer Shakespeare.”

Now, of course, the stage is shared. Some productions are so short of men that women have to take on their roles, and urgent pleas flock out each week begging men to audition.

Although they’ve had a relatively short time centre-stage, many women have begun their acting careers here: Emma Thompson, who was not only a prominent member of the Cambridge Footlights while she was here but also co-wrote, co-produced and co-directed Cambridge’s first all-female revue, Woman’s Hour in 1983; and Rachel Weisz, who co-founded a student drama group called ‘Cambridge Talking Tongues’, which went on to win a Guardian Student Drama Award at the Edinburgh Fringe.

It’s not only on-stage that women have made an impression; Cambridge is full of talented female directors, whose work rivals anything to be seen. From the minute they were allowed on the boards, women have continued to make the Cambridge stage their home.

There are regular opportunities for women to appear in plays with predominantly female roles, such as the recent, powerful production of Be My Baby. This week sees The Vagina Monologues celebrate the success of women on- and back-stage in Cambridge, presenting a particularly feminist production with an all-female production team. It is clear that in the 75 years women have been performing here, they’ve made their mark.

Clare Rivers-Mohan