Given one glance at the Oscar Nominees for 2020, it’s no great secret that female writers and directors are woefully underrepresented in film, and sadly it’s a trend that extends to the theatre. From the very top, Rufus Norris’ promise that women will represent 50% of writers and directors by 2021 is still to manifest itself. With that in mind, Hope Mill Theatre’s Vignettes, presenting six-short plays by Manchester-based female playwrights, is a refreshing addition to the North West theatre scene. It can only be hoped that the necessity of these evenings soon becomes a thing of the past and the future will see an abundance of original work by female writers hitting the theatre scene in the years to come.
All six plays are work commissioned by HER Productions, a female-led company headed by Hannah Ellis Ryan. The company’s mission is to support and advance female playwrights. Featuring a mix of established and emerging writers it’s fantastic to see that those being championed are not just those who’ve worked the system and know the right people. And it’s great to experience the bustling atmosphere and sell-out audience witnessing the premiere of these pieces as they go under the lights for the first time.
Spilling over an hour over 90 minutes, it’s clear that scheduled run-times should be taken with a pinch of salt, but thankfully the variety of work and change in worlds prevents any threat of itchy feet. Stand-out pieces include Jan McVerry’s Dancing Out, containing the immortal line “she looks like she brushed her hair with a toffee apple” and Ellen Taylor’s tickling yet thoughtful observation of loneliness in The Cat Sitter.
One small criticism would be to highlight the frequent employment of black-outs signifying scene changes. It’s jarring and shatters illusions, especially ones that are given such a short time-frame to develop. It’s unclear whether this is a directorial or scripted choice, but a better approach would be to find creative alternatives that don’t necessitate sitting in the dark listening to prop movement and shuffling for 20 seconds.
Having been unsuccessful in two subsequent ACE bids, the evening is funded entirely by ticket sales. Hopefully, high audience numbers from its premiere will enable Vignettes to return in the future, it will be a great loss to the Manchester theatre scene if it doesn’t.
Runs until 6 February 2020