The 1940s - Feminism

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NT performers were regularly involved in International Women’s Day celebrations. Unofficial NT “playwright in residence” for a decade from 1942 was Oriel Gray who developed a more complex attitude to women’s issues than the factory girl Phyllis she portrayed in 1939’s So It Didn’t Work:

Ciel: Who’s the guy?

Phyllis: Which guy?

Ciel: Only a guy can make a girl feel dopey in the morning, and sing in the afternoon.

Phyllis: Well, he’s grand, he’s gorgeous, he’s swell.

Ciel: A pansy.

Phyllis: That’s what you think.

Gray’s My Life is My Affair, staged in 1947, was reviewed as showing a subtle understanding of human nature. The play (involving a returned soldier, his wife and “the other woman”) pitted a scientist’s responsibility for his work (making the atomic bomb) against a woman’s responsibility for her own life.

More overtly feminist was 1948’s The Dangerous Sex by NT member Joan Gibson, a teacher and mother writing in her spare time.

A contemporary woman, angry at union objections to women working outside the home, is musing on the female lot when she falls asleep and is taken through a cavalcade of historical women struggling for emancipation and equal pay. The piece ends with a call to arms for sexual equality. The host of characters included Mary Wollstonecraft, Fanny Burney and Florence Nightingale (played by Olga Yarad).

A modern couple discuss the issues:

Iris: When this suburb gets a day nursery where I can leave George, and a play centre where Jane and Teddy can wait till their parents come home from work, I will certainly be working in industry, washing up or no washing up. Till then, I’m tied to the housekeeping, and I can’t walk out on it.

Bill: Unless of course there’s a Depression and out go the men and in go the women, and you have to turn to and keep me.

Iris: You’d better do something about women’s wages in the meantime, for your own sake. Keep the likes of you!


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