Edinburgh Fringe 2017 – our #FeministFaves

Here it is, folks! The full list of our favourite shows from this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, in more detail than expected (we may have got carried away). There’s just over a week left of the festival, so if you’re in town and haven’t seen these shows yet, get booking ASAP.

If you’re all fringed out, or didn’t make it to the festival, get these productions on your radar – Edinburgh is a springboard for successful shows to tour off the back of, so they’ll be likely to pop up again on a stage near you.

As with our longer pre-fringe shows to see list, we’ve grouped these by venue and time to make it easier to plan if you’re on a tight schedule. This list includes both solid Bechdel test passes, and female-led shows that we feel are worth bending the test’s critera to include.

For in-depth interviews with some of our #FeministFaves subscribe to our podcast, and for constant updates on Bechdel test passing shows and up-to-the-minute #FeministFringe #TopTips follow us on twitter and instagram.

Out of Love @ Summerhall Roundabout 13:25 

A starkly truthful and sweetly funny story of the friendship between two girls as they grow up and part ways. Sharp writing from Elinor Cook and superb performances from a cast who spring from child to teenage to adult roles (and back again) in the split-second of a lighting change, with the deft unwavering confidence of gymnasts, and no props whatsoever. Out of Love perfectly captures the intensity of best-friendship between girls, and the lasting impact such early connections can have on women’s lives and relationships, even beyond adolescence. 
Out of Love is performed in Paines Plough’s accessible and ingeniously constructed pop-up theatre, Roundabout, which this year is home to five Bechdel test passing plays: see their full list.

#FeministFringe #TopTip: The selection of variously sized spaces filled with excellent female-led shows of all genres make Summerhall the perfect venue to spend a day at if you want to settle in to one spot and avoid lengthy treks through the rain between shows.

Salt @ Summerhall Northern Stage 14:30

Selina Thompson took a journey on a ship tracing the steps of her ancestors on the transatlantic slave trade route via Belgium, Ghana, Jamaica and the US. In Salt, she tells the story of her own journey so vividly that the sights, sounds and smells of the places become intensely present in the room – from her parents cosy home in Birmingham, to the claustrophobic bowels of the ship and dank castle dungeons where slaves were held. Thompson gains the trust of her audience immediately with her steady and direct tone of voice and eye contact, and maintains it. Her connection with us never strays from being sharply in the moment, while her story covers years. The memory of the people whose enslavement brought us all to this point fizzes palpably in the air throughout the performance, increasingly impossible to ignore, with the image of Thompson breaking up salt crystals etched deeply in the minds of all leaving Summerhall after seeing this show.

The Edinburgh run of Salt is sold out but we strongly advise asking about returns and seeking out Selina Thompson post-Fringe, her work is essential and unmissable.

Box Clever @ Roundabout Summerhall 16:40

A new play about one woman’s experience of a refuge and a mother’s commitment to do the best for her daughter, written and performed by Monsay Whitney, with singer-songwriter Avi Simmons providing live music, beautiful clowning, and a multitude of surrounding characters. Simmons does a sterling job switching between these many roles, and is especially lovely as daughter Autumn, but unfortunately had a few lines in a Jamaican accent for one character, which was jarring and could be reconsidered. Whitney’s writing and performance in this show is phenomenal, her protagonist is a perfectly pitched complex portrayal of a woman persisting as she is challenged to breaking point by abuse and bureaucracy. Our hearts break with hers as she tries to bring up her four-year-old in a world where most other adults seem toxic, weak or uncaring. Throughout this tale of adversity Whitney never allows a hint of stereotypes often tied to female-led tragic narratives: inspirational strong woman, or weeping mis-treated damsel, but is she always truly, refreshingly, devastatingly human.

You’ve Changed @ Summerhall Northern Stage 20:30

Kate O’Donnell transitioned in 2003 before the term ‘transgender’ even existed. Her insight into how the world and attitudes to gender have (and haven’t) changed is fun, witty, deeply personal, and brilliantly educational. Her hilariously matter-of-fact conversation with her own vagina wins the Bechdel Theatre award for most creative woman-alone-on-stage passing of the Bechdel test!

You’ve Changed is a show for everyone from the most gender-aware to those just discovering trans 101, O’Donnell is a welcoming host, ready to share her wisdom with anyone willing to learn. This accomplished performer and obviously fantastically intelligent woman could be a guiding light for anyone going through the ‘coming out’ process that she embarked on 15 years ago, and her show should be essential viewing for any cisgender fringe-goers with trans friends or family (which is most of us, whether we realise it or not).

Dollywould @ Summerhall 21:15

Sh!t Theatre f*cking love Dolly Parton, and so do we. This is not a sing-along-a jukebox musical, but is also not the socio-political documentary style that’s come to be expected from performance art darlings Sh!t Theatre. Their ‘main-stage crossover hit’, is duly getting the bums-on-seats that their ever-growing reputation has earned, and lives up to all our hopes and expectations that have built up from hearing that this show is a “new direction” for the duo. There’s not much more that can be said without spoilers, but think about all your favourite aspects of Dolly herself and you’ll find them in the show: tits, glitter, uncompromising frankness, catchy hooks, vulnerability that’s strictly on the performer’s terms, and (as anyone who REALLY follows Dolly will know) a genius air of seductive mystery.

#FeministFringe #TopTip: The chippy up the road if you turn left outside Summerhall were way cheaper than the food vans inside, and they didn’t mind at all that we spent the time waiting for our food performing our own rendition of 9-to-5

Workshy @ Summerhall 21:10

The box office assistant asked if we were squeamish before handing over the tickets to this performance by Katy Baird. It’s a frank chronological explanation of the all the ways Baird has paid the bills over the years, with photos, video, a multitude of props, and some touchingly intimate personal anecdotes filling in detail between the lines of a CV which took her from burger flipping to live art.
Baird makes us aware of our relationship to her and to each other as viewers in a number of creative ways, the first is by asking for pay transparency via raised hands at the beginning of the show. This sets the tone for the level of involvement she asks of the audience (not very much), and the level of open-mindedness that should be brought into the room if you want to get the most out of the show (plenty). We won’t spoil the rest of the fantastic ways that Katy Baird plays with and unites her crowd, except to say that we loved every moment, even the one that had some of the audience’s high-earners shielding their eyes.

Eggs Collective Get A Round @ Summerhall  21:10

This lively ensemble piece from multi-talented comics Eggs Collective takes the audience along on a night out with three women. In identical sequined dresses the women begin as one giggling group, but the trio is gradually unravelled by each of the characters unique voices, vices and virtues as they take us step by messy step on a chaotic weekend.

Eggs Collective’s show is deeper than it first appears, and without saying too much, we related to the way these women’s joyous jokes and pop-theme tunes turned to tears, their woes weighed down by a level of self- and world-awareness not often afforded to representations of noisy, sparkly women.
They give you a drink too!

Rachel Creeger: It’s No Job for a Nice Jewish Girl @ Black Market 13:40

Rachel Creeger’s jokes are not just for the Jewish – this English Atheist was laughing as heartily at this performance as the Jewish American family beside us, who related so avidly that they waved their Kosher food-finding app upon its mention during the set. Although the title makes reference to a version of Orthodoxy which bans women from performing to mixed audiences, and relays tales from Creeger’s years singing for female-only audiences in a successful Jewish girl band, this show seems to balance on the perfect line both welcoming the devout with in-jokes and tickling the non-believers with insight. Everyone in this cosy little pub, minutes from the soul-testing Mile, was equally warmed by Creeger’s sweet ‘supply-teacher’ demeanour, and thrilled by the witty edge of her punchlines.

Ada Campe and The Psychic Duck @ CC Blooms 15:00

Variety legend (and comedy alter-ego of renowned feminist academic Naomi Paxton) Ada Campe returns to the Fringe with a wildly eccentric storytelling show inspired by the the music hall, circus and burlesque characters of fairground history. The name of this show correctly implies a hefty level of silliness, so keep that spirit in mind on arrival, but there is more to expect than just ridiculous (excellent) animal puns: Psychic Duck is peppered with wicked punchlines, gently chaotic audience participation, and ingenious magic. In a nostalgic setting and narrative style that will be familiar to fans of Victorian and Edwardian sensationalist crime drama, Ada Campe (who DIVA magazine described as an ‘unhinged supervillain’, and we see as the kind of lady Edina and Patsy would have get sloshed with and snogged, had they been around in the 1920s) weaves a tale of showbiz legends, female companionship, and achieving your dreams – however outrageous they might seem.

London Hughes: Superstar @ C Royale 19:15

One of our many Fringe hosts, as we surfed from generous person’s couch to welcoming person’s floor, told us that London Hughes used to be a kids TV presenter. I don’t know what image that conjures for you – but Blue Peter this show is not. London Hughes is an incredible human whirlwind of talents, with her unstoppable energy the only thing recognisably ‘kids telly’ about her. Hughes astute observations on life bounce skillfully between the personal and political. She frames an hour of stand-up and sketches around a list of all the ways she’s tried to get famous, leaping from fabulous dance routines to searing race commentary, pushing the line of audience interaction in a way that only someone so hugely likeable could get away with.  She never lingers on one topic or routine for longer than a minute, which makes this hour fly but simultaneously feel like 2 hours worth of material. If it weren’t for the ache in our faces and bellies from laughing, we’d have gladly stayed for an encore, and will certainly be back for more in future.

#FeminstFringe #TopTip: C Venues Royale (where London Hughes is playing), and CC Blooms (where Ada Campe is on) are on the other side of the bridge from most of the other venues we visited, but are near loads of shops and cafes, so if you want a break from being flyered constantly, need to nip into M&S buy a cardi or some pants, or fancy a sit-down vegan lunch at Henderson’s Cafe, work that into your day between these two!
Also, CC Blooms is a fabulous LGBTQ+ nightspot, if you feel the urge for a bit of late night dancing.

Mae Martin: Dope @ Laughing Horse at City Cafe 20:00

Mae Martin is another human whirlwind who made the time disappear before our eyes as we were completely absorbed her world. The world in which this show takes place is Martin’s mind, which is inhabited by an imagined creature who’s hungry for the dopamine that the show’s title refers to (it’s more about psychology than drugs, though drugs do come up). Martin is some whose life is a bullet list of one involving obsession or addiction after another. This show is particularly relateable for anyone who grew up as one of those ‘weird’ kids with fixations on a celebrity or hobby, and will recognise themselves with the kind of cringe-laugh that constantly threatens to turn into uncontrollable tears. If that’s not you, you almost certainly know someone like that, and will laugh almost as hard: Martin’s decades of experience on the comedy scene mean she has a mad-genuis-like awareness of how to connect with her crowd, and (given the potentially sensitive nature of some topics) takes perfect care of every individual in this crammed underground nightclub space.

#FeministFringe #TopTip: Get to City Cafe early and queue to ensure entry, Mae Martin is as popular as she deserves to be and will almost certainly be impossible to see in such an intimate space before too long. If you miss Dope at 8pm, or want to see more after it, Mae Martin also has an improv show later in the evening which she shares with a man, but is also good fun.

Georgie Morrell: Morrell Highground @ Underbelly Med Quad

Georgie Morrell (who’s at the Fringe in two shows: this and her first show ‘A Poke In The Eye’, on at Cabaret Voltaire at 20:30) talks extensively and hilariously about her experience of temporarily going blind in both eyes (having been seeing with one eye for most of her life). She goes into particular detail and depth telling us about the NHS doctors and staff who have treated her, and the ludicrous process of being assessed for her benefits. Morrell’s style is wryly self-deprecating, only dipping briefly into sweetness when playing clips of her parents talking alongside family photos, frequently giving an edge to any hint of cute by sending herself up for being ‘spoilt’ and a ‘daddy’s girl’. Though the audience sympathise with her health troubles and arduous run-ins with bureaucrats, we never feel pitying or voyeuristic, Morrell’s responsive chats with the audience and confidence in her punchlines make her seem like the kind of natural comic that you could spend all day in the company of – you’ll come out of this show feeling like you’ve made a new pal – one who we’d readily march alongside, should we bump into her at to a ‘Save Our NHS’ protest any time soon.

Good Girl @ Just The Tonic in the Mash House 13:00

Naomi Sheldon is a triple threat: actor, writer and comic, and Good Girl is a virtuoso demonstration of all three of these expertly-honed skills. Sheldon sweeps up the audience in a torrent of warm bubbling energy and has us captivated from the second the lights go up as she tells a simple story which could sound trite on paper: a coming of age tale of a woman learning how to process her own emotions. The plot is much more than that (we don’t wanna spoil it!), but the real magnet for our undivided attention is Sheldon’s physical and vocal transformations as she brings to life every character that her protagonist GG encounters on her journey to adulthood: childhood friends, teachers, and employers are all played for laughs without ever being stereotypes, or detracting from the emotional crux of the story.

#FeministFringe #TopTip: We don’t think many of the Just The Tonic venues have raked seating, so if you’re short like us get there early to pick your seats!

Evelyn Mok: Hymen Manoeuvre @ Pleasance Courtyard 18:00

As the name suggests, this is a show about Mok losing her virginity. While the inevitably awkward ‘first time’ provides an ingenious title and a warm chuckle of audience pathos when she asks if ANYONE has a good time losing their virginity, this is not purely a show about sex (or lack of it). It’s about everything in life that brought Mok to That Night – from her experiences growing up speaking English and Swedish with an Indian accent, to the advice, strength and body-image issues passed down through generations of Chinese women in her family. Mok does not always allow her audience to settle in comfortably, or expect us to relate to every aspect her unique story: she keeps us on our toes at all times, but her wry self-awareness and compellingly confident stage presence mean we’re always rooting for her (in a way that we never do for Amy Schumer, who gets name-checked as a comparison on her flyer). Hymen Manoeuvre left us eager to find out what happens in the next chapter of Evelyn Mok’s life as she hits her 30s, and looking forward to hearing more from her in the future.

DIGS @ Pleasance Courtyard 13:45

Devising duo Theatre with Legs have created this dark comedy about Generation Rent, overdrafts, anxiety and surviving their 20s. A mix of not-entirely-stylised awkward dialogue between two housemates, overlapping finish-each-others-sentences direct address, and beautifully expressive solo scenes by each performer alone on stage, Jess Murrain and Lucy Bairstow have chemistry that simmers, sometimes with synchronicity and sometimes with conflict and tension. At times uncomfortable – especially for anyone who has ever felt alone whilst living in a shared flat in a big city – this show and the relationships it explores are both clearly deeply personal, almost universally recognisable, and electric to watch.

Offside @ Pleasance Courtyard 15:40

Fresh from a successful tour, Offside is a poetic drama, co-written by Sabrina Mahfouz and Hollie McNish, based on the lives of female footballers, from the 1880s up to the present day. The three-strong cast lived up to the athleticism of their characters with dynamic performances, all of them switching between characters and accents seamlessly to tell a series of overlapping stories of inspirational individuals, with the kind of rousing feminist battlecry moments that guarantee a lump in the throat and a fire in the belly for the impassioned crowds it’s attracting.

We chatted to Tanya Loretta Dee about her role in Offside on our podcast (out soon).

Cathy @ Pleasance Dome 15:30

A play about homelessness today, inspired by the film Cathy Come Home, and based on stories of people who have been homeless, are currently homeless, or at risk of homelessness. All characters are realistically detailed and played with precision and humanity by a small team of actors, and their circumstances are enragingly true-to-life. We believe in every setting as we travel alongside Cathy between flats and hostels, on buses and on streets, thanks to an ingenious Fringe-friendly set constructed from unstable-looking giant Jenga-block walls which crumble and are rebuilt everytime Cathy relocates.

Cardboard Citizens ‘Legislative Theatre’, with it’s post-show law-making session, means that the audience is left feeling the urge to channel our anger and sadness into actions, to get involved in campaigns to change the systems that we’ve seen impact Cathy, rather than wallowing in helpless guilt.

Hot Brown Honey @ Assembly Roxy 21:00

Undoubtedly the fiery-est feminist hit show of last year’s Fringe, the system-smashing cabaret burlesque show is back, with “lashings of sass and a hot pinch of empowerment”. With DJ Busty Beatz at the helm, the team of formidable female superstars from a range of different artforms and backgrounds are making noise and taking up space gloriously from the moment the doors to Assembly Roxy are open.

This show is a blast of intersectional celebration and rage, consisting of a series of stunningly executed dance, circus and musical set-pieces. Particularly memorable are the cuttingly hilarious white-woman-on-holiday hula-hoop dance, the fuck-your-stereotypes maid costumes and Polynesian weaving routine, and a gut-wrenching aerial performance which will stick with you for ever. Then there is the beatboxing, and the incredible singing. We could go on. But just as it gets tempting to see these women as unstoppable superheroes decolonising the world one-song-and-dance-routine at a time, their impassioned raffle to raise money for childcare and pointed reminder to buy their merch lets us know that the mission of this show is very much in progress and the revolution can’t continue without finances. So make sure you bring plenty of CASH with you when you see the show, and pay big to keep the honey flame burning bright!

Britney in: John @ Bedlam Theatre 18:30

The team behind last year’s brain-tumour comedy, best friends Charly and Ellen, are back with a sketch show about a road trip across America that they took as 18-year-olds trying to make a documentary about American masculinity called ‘In Search of John Hancock’.
Ellen and Charly have honed and developed their unique style of storytelling since we last saw them (it’s a mix of their personal story, interspersed with pop-culture-inspired sketches), and the response seems to be an even higher laugh-per-minute-rate from their audience than their previous show (which was pretty high)  – though maybe it’s just easier for us to engage with a light-hearted piss-take of earnest 18-year-old documentary makers than it is to find the LOLs in cancer?

Video evidence of their earnest docu-attempt in ‘John’ really adds an extra layer of humour to this show, and the simple but specific skewering of themselves and the world around them in their sketches showcases their skills brilliantly – they use no props except two stools, and wear their matching ‘John Hancock’ t-shirts at all times. If you want a guaranteed laugh, go to this show. If you want to hear more about it, listen out for our interview with Britney’s Charly and Ellen (Ellen and Charly?) on the upcoming episode of Bechdel Theatre Podcast, recorded live at Gilded Balloon with Funny Women.

#FeministFringe #TopTip Funny Women Fest is on at noon every day at Gilded Balloon Teviot, and they have a different line-up of female stand-ups, comedy actors, and sketch groups every day. It’s a great way to start your day, so bring a coffee and your diary in case you discover an act that you want to fit in to see more of later in the day!

Show Me The Money @ Bedlam Theatre (finished on the 13th)

Paula Varjack uses her own long career as the narrative backdrop for a funny, searing and extremely watchable exploration of how art is funded. Varjack demonstrates the hoops required to jump through, boxes to be ticked, admin to be filed, in order to fund art and dismantles with vigour and glitter the idea that you can’t call yourself an artist unless you make money from art.
This was the second show we saw that asked for pay transparency from its audience (the other was Workshy – see above), and there was an audience member sat near us on £70k+! – we hope he has made a hefty investment into Varjack’s work – Show Me the Money is valuable viewing for artists and non-artists alike and we’d love to see it tour extensively beyond the Fringe and reach as wide an audience as possible.

We Are Not Afraid @ Just The Tonic at The Caves 18:45

Roisin and Chiara are Pippa’s favourite ever comedy double act. They have synchronicity like no other duo we’ve seen, as well as each possessing their own individual talents and distinctive physicality. It’s a perfect match.
These two fearless improv geniuses bring a dazzling array of character sketches to life on a scale that threatens to knock the audience off their folding chairs and burst the seams of their modest venue in the caves. This was easily the paciest of all the shows we saw at the Fringe, so if you’re feeling fatigued we advise planting yourself on the front row of this riotous rampage of larger-than-life characters in deliciously surreal situations. Wear your mac on your lap because it may get messy.

Quarter Life Crisis @ Underbelly Cowgate 14:40

Yolanda Mercy uses original music and spoken word in her quest to achieve adulthood. Alicia is a fictional character but we sense that her voice and experiences are not far from Yolanda Mercy’s own. Mixing up the real and imaginary allows Mercy to create a distinctive and realistic character in Alicia, and a neat structure that takes us from her bedroom to a family wedding, via a sweet Tinder date, with the tug of her busy London Millennial life and her Nigerian family and history pulling her in all directions at once  as she interrogates and affirms all aspects of her own identity and place in the world. This show is gorgeously uplifting, and Mercy’s presence as a performer is pure sunshine in the dark caves of Underbelly Cowgate. There were certainly happy tears in the audience when we saw Quarter Life Crisis, and word of mouth is spreading quickly of this astounding new talent, so get in to see it while you can.
Listen to our interview with Yolanda and director Jade Lewis on the most recent episode of our podcast, recorded just before they left for the Fringe.

Prom Kween @ Underbelly Cowgate 20:35

Rebecca Humphries’ new musical is set firmly in the world of the American High School familiar to British audiences countless movies (think Grease, Hairspray, Mean Girls, Clueless etc) and it’s plot centres around the recognisable popularity contest in which characters compete to become Prom Queen at the end of the school year.
Prom Kween has two unique aspects which make it stand out from its Hollywood peers: Firstly, the awareness of gender as a spectrum rather than a binary – our outcast hero does not identify as either male or female, show’s host is a splendid queen (familiar to lovers of TV’s Drag Race). Secondly, Prom Kween’s dry humour and many layers of irony and cheekiness mean that despite its All-American setting, this show has a particularly British appeal that it’s screen counterparts don’t.
Prom Kween is a joyful pick-me-up right from the beginning (we were offered glitter to decorate our faces on arrival), and you can hear more about it on the next episode of our podcast (out soon).

That’s all for this year!

For more detail on some of these shows, including interviews recorded live from the fringe, check out our Podcast, and keep following us on twitter where we’ll be retweeting ALL the shows that pass the Bechdel test.

And our final, most important #FeministFringe #TopTip: if you’re running short on time and budget to see shows at Edinburgh, check out this mural on the front of Assembly George Square Theatre for the best booking advice possible…


Edinburgh Fringe 2017

It’s that time again… We’re preparing to head up to Edinburgh Fringe, where we’ll be highlighting shows that pass the Bechdel test, celebrating women on stage, championing gender-conscious and female-led theatre, and doing all we can to help you find shows where women are not completely absent.

If you’re up at the Fringe, make sure you look out for our stamps and stickers on posters all around the city (and let us know if you see a show that we haven’t highlighted yet).

(PS podcasting, stickering, being in Edinburgh all costs £££ and Bechdel Theatre receives no public funding, if you want to help us to support the improvement of gender representation on stage, you can make a donation, or become a Patron.)

Now, onto the recommendations! These are some Edinburgh shows that we reckon will *probably* pass the test, and definitely sound like they’re worth seeing. To help you plan what to see, and when, we’ve organised them by venue and time-slot – because we know how hectic Fringe-going can be. 

When we see shows we REALLY love, we’ll be adding them to our list of Edinburgh Fringe #FeministFaves – so keep an eye on that list too – it’s shorter but has more detail!

See you there!


Plays, comedy double acts, sketch shows, dance companies, circus troupes and cabaret collectives that we’re pretty sure feature at least two women.

DIGS @ Pleasance Courtyard 13:45
Devising duo Theatre with Legs have created this dark comedy about Generation Rent, overdrafts, anxiety and surviving their 20s. One of our #FeministFaves.

Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman @ Pleasance Courtyard 14:00

A burlesque show about periods, featuring a stellar line-up of menstruators, and a liiiittle bit of blood.

Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) @ Pleasance Courtyard 14:20

A cheery tale about a young woman with clinical depression, from Olivier Award winning playwright Jon Brittain (‘Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho’ & ‘Rotterdam’).

Buzz @ Pleasance Courtyard 15:30

A new musical about the history of vibrators, what more do you need to know? Catch this before it’s success makes it impossible to get tickets for.

Offside @ Pleasance Courtyard 15:40

Fresh from a successful tour, Offside is a poetic drama, co-written by Sabrina Mahfouz and Hollie McNish, based on the lives of female footballers, from the 1880s up to the present day. One of our #FeministFaves.

This Really Is Too Much @ Underbelly Cowgate 15:20

Gracefool combine dancing with dark comedy to delve into a world of farcical stereotypes and preposterous power struggles, wrestling with gender, identity and social convention.

Our Carnal Hearts @ Summerhall Roundabout 11:00
With a raucous chorus of original music, award-winning theatre maker Rachel Mars and four belting female singers bring you a gleeful, dark show about the hidden workings of envy.

Out of Love @ Summerhall Roundabout 13:25 
A new play by Elinor Cook about the close friendship between two girls as they grow up and take different directions in adulthood. One of our #FeministFaves.

No Show @ Summerhall 16:15

A contemporary all-female circus about the reality behind the flawless smiles and perfect execution: showcasing the wobbles, the pain, and the real cost of aiming for perfection.

Box Clever @ Summerhall Roundabout 16:40

A new play about one woman’s experience of a refuge and a mother’s commitment to do the best for her daughter. One of our #FeministFaves.

Love+ @ Summerhall 19:10
Love+ is a one-woman two-hander about the inevitability of human/robot relationships by Irish theatre company Malaprop. 

Eggs Collective Get A Round @ Summerhall  21:10
A wayward exploration of friendship, kindness and belonging that spills out towards its audience. Eggs Collective wonder if the basic principles of a good night out might make the world a better place. One of our #FeministFaves.

Dollywould – Sh!t Theatre @ Summerhall 21:15
Sh!t Theatre F*cking love Dolly Parton, and so do we. We also loved last year’s offering from this award-winning performance duo. One of our #FeministFaves.

The Vagina Dialogues – The Völvas – Upper Church Summerhall 12:30

A cabaret-style theatre and variety piece that includes a series of episodic monologues, duologues, and movement pieces set to live music.

Funny Women Fest @ Gilded Balloon Teviot 12:00
A merry lunchtime mix of comedy, variety and conversation, with different funny women guests on every day.

Notflix @ Gilded Balloon Teviot 15:00

This improvised musical comedy is different every night, but always aces the Bechdel test.

Siblings @ Gilded Balloon Teviot 23:30

A raucous journey into the absurdity of an all too familiar world. Suitable for anyone who has or has seen a sister. ‘Watch out for these gals’ (Jennifer Saunders). ‘Hilarious’ (Dawn French). ‘Really funny’ (Miranda Hart).

Fémage à Trois @ Gilded Balloon at Rose Theatre 15:30
A brand-new trilogy of independent stories, told by the women central to them, as they battle with their demons.

Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret about Gin @ Gilded Balloon at Rose Theatre 18:15
A Cabaret about Gin: does what it says on the tin. Also the two performers promise that a g&t is included in the ticket price. Bottoms up!

Mouthpiece @ CanadaHub King’s Hall
Two performers express the inner conflict that exists within a modern woman’s head: the push and the pull, the past and the present, the progress and the regression.

Under my Thumb @ Assembly Roxy 16:10

In a dystopian present, five women are imprisoned for crimes against society. Shortlisted for the inaugural RED Women’s Theatre Awards in 2016.

Hot Brown Honey @ Assembly Roxy 21:00

Undoubtedly the fiery-est feminist hit show of last year’s Fringe, the system-smashing cabaret burlesque show is back, with “lashings of sass and a hot pinch of empowerment”. Don’t miss it. One of our #FeministFaves.

Matter of Race @ Mint Studio at Greenside Infirmary Street 11:35

A story of two girls with identical lives, with one difference: the colour of their skin. Through physical theatre, spoken word, dance and song Zakiya Theatre Company explore just how much the colour of their skin affects their day-to-day treatment in society.

Britney in: John @ Bedlam Theatre 18:30

The team behind last year’s brain-tumour comedy are back with a sketch show about a road trip across America. One of our #FeministFaves.

We Are Not Afraid @ Just The Tonic at The Caves 18:45

Roisin & Chiara are Pippa’s favourite ever comedy double act. Surreal storytelling ‘improvising geniuses’ bring to life a plethora of irresistibly well-observed character vignettes. One of our #FeministFaves.

Scene @ Paradise in Augustines 16:45
Two women decide to write a play about their interracial queer relationship. Funny, honest and explosively entertaining, this piece of new writing is an exploration of race, gender, sexuality, family and what it means to love someone who doesn’t look like you. 

Hotter @ Paradise in Augustines 22:45

Hotter asked everyone, from grannies to drag artists: ‘What gets you hot?’ Joined by the voices of women and non-binary people interviewed around the country, two women are embarking on a battle against embarrassment using sketch theatre, song and dance.

Manic Pixie Dream Girls @ Laughing Horse at The Counting House 01:00 (from Aug 13)

This show bills itself as a late-nght antidote to “Pale, Stale, Male Comedy”. Hosts Sophie Duker and Erin Simmons share the stage with a different guest each night. We LOVED these Dream Girls last year, and can’t wait to see more from them.

Stand-ups and one-woman shows that make it well worth stretching the limits of the Bechdel test to include. Because sometimes quality is as valuable as quantity.

Njambi McGrath: Breaking Black @ Laughing Horse at the Counting House 12:05
Spat on and told to go back to the jungle, Njambi explores the patriotism of immigrants in their new home and dwells on her own experiences as a Kenyan-born UK resident. She is Breaking Black and loving it.

Half Breed @ Assembly George Square Theatre 12:20
Trust me, around here I’m about as black as it goes…’ a partly autobiographical dark comedy by Natasha Marshall, presented by Soho Theatre and Talawa Theatre Company.

Desiree Burch: Unf*ckable @ Bobs BlundaBus 22:00
The 2015 Funny Women Award-winner presents her second comedy hour on sex, race and capitalism.

Quarter Life Crisis @ Underbelly Cowgate 14:40
Yolanda Mercy uses original music and spoken word in her quest to achieve adulthood. Listen to our interview with Yolanda and director Jade Lewis on our podcastOne of our #FeministFaves.

Dust @ Underbelly Cowgate 16:40
Milly Thomas, has written and performs this solo show about a woman forced to watch the aftermath of her suicide and its ripple effect on her family and friends.

Georgie Morrell: Morrell Highground @ Underbelly Med Quad 15:00
Can Georgie save the NHS? Are NHS doctors hotter than private ones?! Why can’t disability be mega LOLz? Taking you through her bizarre and hilarious journey, find out how Georgie sees disability through her one eye! One of our #FeministFaves.

Athena Kugblenu: KMT @ Underbelly Med Quad 17:50
KMT – acronym for the Caribbean Patois expression ‘kiss mi teeth’, a mouth gesture used to show annoyance – is a debut hour that finds a new way to talk about politics, class, race and identity at a time both ends of the political spectrum couldn’t be any further apart.

A Robot in Human Skin @ Underbelly Med Quad 20:30
Nicole Henriksen’s fresh, truthful, and heartfelt look at mental health and the ways we treat and understand it. Come take a look into a different mind and see how you like the ride.

The Unmarried @ Underbelly Med Quad 22:35
Written and performed by Lauren Gauge, The Unmarried mixes 90s rave with ‘striking, savage, rare writing talent’, and has had sell-out runs at Lyric Hammersmith and Camden People’s Theatre.

Ava Campe and The Psychic Duck @ CC Blooms 15:00
A show about spirit waterfowl, wonderful women and a fairground mystery that occured on the Welsh coast many moons ago. DIVA said Ada Campe ‘resembles an unhinged super-villain’, and we agree (in the best possible way). One of our #FeministFaves.

Nina – A Story About Me and Nina Simone @ Traverse Theatre (times vary 5-13th Aug)

Josette Bushell-Mingo intertwines stories from her own life and career with Nina Simone’s story and music from a live band.

Eggsistentialism @ Summerhall 13:00
Looking down the barrel of her final fertile years, one modern woman goes on a comical quest to uncover the ifs, hows and crucially the whys of reproducing her genes.  

Salt @ Summerhall Northern Stage 14:30
In February 2016, two artists got on a cargo ship to retrace one of the routes of the Transatlantic Slave Triangle – from the UK to Ghana to Jamaica and back. This show is what they brought back. One of our #FeministFaves.

Pike St @ Summerhall Roundabout 15:00

Award-winning Nilaja Sun breathes life into a vibrant mix of Lower East Side residents in her latest solo show.

Workshy @ Summerhall 21:10
Looking through the lens of labour, Workshy is a powerful and honest portrayal of the relationship between class and aspiration. One of our #FeministFaves.

Rachel Creeger: It’s No Job for a Nice Jewish Girl @ Black Market 13:40
With a face that shouts ‘Xmas’ but a soul that screams ‘Hanukkah’, Rachel Creeger has always felt like she has a foot in two worlds. A debut solo stand-up comedy show exploring the drive to fit in, with a bit about being a pop star. One of our #FeministFaves.

Mae Martin: Dope @ Laughing Horse at City Cafe 20:00
Mae shines a light on that one weird shrimp we all have in our brains that is happy to pursue short-term pleasure, despite knowing the long-term negative consequences. She asks: who are we when we’re not addicted? One of our #FeministFaves.

Good Girl @ Just The Tonic in the Mash House 13:00
Frank, funny debut storytelling from Naomi Sheldon, in association with Old Red Lion Theatre and Bruised Sky Productions. A bold, provocative look at the darker side of being a good girl. One of our #FeministFaves.

Twayna Mayne: Black Girl @ Pleasance Courtyard 16:45
Twayna Mayne is a strong black woman with an extraordinary back story. In her highly anticipated debut hour, join this truly unique rising star as she guides us through a lifetime of labels and contradiction.

Evelyn Mok: Hymen Manoeuvre @ Pleasance Courtyard 18:00
Award-winning Swedish comedian explores first-generation guilt, intersectionality and adult virginity in this confident, smart and highly anticipated debut show. One of our #FeministFaves.

These shows have 1 m & 1 f on stage, but are excellently female focussed, and well worth a watch!

London Hughes: Superstar @ C Royale 19:15
London mixes her love of dance, television and comedy as she explores the crazy world of entertainment and examines the hot topic of diversity in the industry in Hughes’s signature energetic, honest and non-conformist style.

Seven Crazy Bitches @ Assembly Hall 19:00
Join the Diva on a budget as she guides you through the Seven Ages of Woman. Pit stops include seduction via Kate Bush, an interview with the woman who lived in Prince’s head, and finding out how many two pence pieces a man can insert up his foreskin.

You’ve Changed @ Summerhall 20:30
Through song, dance, hard-won wisdom and hilarity, You’ve Changed shines a light on the ins and outs and ups and downs of transitioning. Challenging the idea that genitals equal gender, Kate literally bares all, getting her own out on the proverbial table. She’s changed, that’s clear, but have you?

That’s all for now! 

Follow us on twitter for more shows to see at the Fringe and elsewhere.

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Seen an amazing show that we haven’t covered yet? Let us know!

Bechdel Testing 2017

Shows on our radar for 2017… It’s as simple as that. As always, get in touch if you have more suggestions!

We’ll be talking in more depth about some of these on Bechdel Theatre Podcast, live at VAULT Festival on Feb 1st.

There are still a few tickets left so BOOK NOW to join us with guests including:

On to the recommendations…

VAULT Festival
Where we first saw ‘Skin A Cat’ last year, before it became an award-winning sensation and opened the first season at super-cool subterranean venue The Bunker. VAULT is the best place outside of Edinburgh to catch new shows before word spreads and they start selling out bigger spaces.

Here are a few that we’ve noticed this year:
Balancing Acts
Sharing six intimate stories on depression and coping. Devising company Feral Foxy Ladies team up with film-makers Kaleido Film Collective to deliver six candid stories of depression and the ways we find to cope: from diving and sex to song.
A comedy with lots of heart, and a brain tumour. When good brains go bad. This is the very true and very funny story of two best friends coming to terms with one being diagnosed with a brain tumour.
Fran & Leni
1976. Fran & Leni meet. Three years later they are The Rips. Girls with guitars, bored of playing nice. Music, fishnets, tits and spitting. A full-throttle tale of lifelong friendship.

Comedy following two young women who meet and fall in love while engaging in some light recreational dogging. Together they explore the world of feminist porn and take on the patriarchal establishment.
Princess Suffragette
A contemporary (re)telling of Princess Sophia Duleep Singh’s journey, from her aristocratic upbringing as the daughter of an exiled Maharajah, to her political awakening as the first British-Asian Suffragette.
My World Has Exploded A Little Bit

A darkly comic, deeply personal guide to bereavement. With philosophy, music and silliness. We loved this at Edinburgh and can’t wait to interview it’s creator on our podcast!

Meanwhile, outside of the vaults…

Escaped Alone –  Royal Court, then touring New York, Salford, Cambridge and Bristol.

One of last year’s highlights returns, a searingly up-to-date play about 4 women over 60.

See Me Now – The Young Vic – 11 Feb – 18 March
London sex workers share their painful, touching and often hilarious stories. Male, female and transgender, they are teachers, cleaners and parents. Behind closed doors they’re also paid to make their clients feel good – in all sorts of ways. Some do it for the money, some for love, some for unexpected reasons… A new play about an invisible side of everyday life.

Bucket List – Battersea Arts Centre 13 Feb – 4 March, then touring until 29 April
Set on the Mexico-US border amid turbulent relations, Bucket List follows one Mexican woman’s extraordinary quest for justice.
When her mother is murdered for protesting corporate and governmental corruption, Milagros finds herself with a bloodstained list of those responsible and is determined to make them pay.

Brixton Rock – Mangle Nightclub – 15 Feb – 12 March 
Brenton Brown has never known his parents. A brutal feud with the killer Terry Flynn has scarred him for life. As a care leaver living in a hostel he craves the support of a family. But when he meets his mother and his beautiful half-sister, his life changes forever. The Big House stages high profile productions with young people who have been in care

Twelfth Night  – Olivier Theatre – 15 Feb – 17 April 

With Tamsin Greig as gender-swapped Malvolia.

Herstory Festival – Balham N16 Feb 17 & 18
A feminist festival of new writing, creating a platform for political discussion and giving a voice to women. 

Two Man Show – Soho Theatre 20 Feb – 4 March
Another Edinburgh 2016 hit that we couldn’t get enough of. Two phenomenal actors and one amazing musican (all female, despite the show title) explore masculinity and challenge gender binaries in a physical performance that’ll rock more than your socks off (I’ve never wanted to perform naked more than when I watched this show).

Roundelay – Southwark Playhouse 23 Feb – 18 March
Sex at 70? Falling in love at 65? Coming out at 62? Never, ever give up on the game of love…You know what they say, love makes the world go round. And sex of course, when you can get it. Roundelay, a fantabulous conglomeration of circus, dance and music. We may not have lions in this little circus of ours, but we have tigers….How’s your inner tiger tonight? Ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourself for close encounters with the third age!

a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun) Royal Court Feb 28 – April 7
debbie tucker green returns to the Royal Court with a new play about three couples. It’s sold out except for £12 Monday day seats.

Tamburlaine Reclaimed 15 March – 8 April at Arcola, and touring until April 21
Yellow Earth presents Christopher Marlowe’s thrilling, controversial and compelling masterpiece, Tamburlaine. Presented by an East Asian cast in a startling new adaptation this production calls into question the very nature of power, masculinity and violence.

Offside Touring, 24 March – 29 April

Four women from across the centuries live, breathe, and play football. Whilst each of them face very different obstacles in pursuing their dream profession, the possibility that the beautiful game will change their futures – and the world – is tantalisingly close.
By poets Sabrina Mahfouz (who we’ll be interviewing about the show on the podcast soon!) and Hollie McNish.

Consent The Dorfman Theatre – 28 March – 17 May
Friends take opposing briefs in a rape case. The key witness is a woman whose life seems a world away from theirs. At home, their own lives begin to unravel as every version of the truth is challenged. 

The Hearing Trumpet The Old Library -April 6 – 29

Adaptation of the inventive and inspirational novel, written by Leonora Carrington in the 1960’s, follows a 92 year-old female protagonist who is having a crisis.

JOAN – Ovalhouse – April 11 – 22
We adore this cabaret-style re-telling of Joan of Arc with Lucy Jane Parkinson (aka drag king LoUis CYfer) in the title role. It was hugely popular at Edinburgh, so grab tickets as soon as they go on sale as part of Ovalhouse’s Spring season.

Brighton Festival throughout May
This year’s guest director is the sublime Kate Tempest. We ‘re eagerly awaiting Feb 15th when her programme will be announced.

Dreamgirls at The Savoy Theatre until Oct 21

Because the West End is so often full of old white men, we can’t wait to see Amber Riley front this stunner of a musical. Get cheap tickets with the todaytix app lottery (£15 for the front row ain’t bad for this calibre of songs and cast)

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour at The Duke of York’s Theatre – from May 15
Another stunner of a musical, transferring to the West End this summer. The worlds of theatre and feminism will jointly rejoice at the return of this choir of Scottish schoolgirls on a wild coming-of-age trip to Edinburgh. They take no shit and give no fucks about anyone except each other. Contains strong language and strong direction from our fave Vicky Featherstone.
Tickets go on sale on Jan 31.

Bechdel Testing Edinburgh Fringe 2016

This month we’re in Edinburgh, awarding Bechdel test passing shows with stickers. Keep your eye out if you’re looking at a wall of posters and want to choose something with women at the forefront to break up the overwhelming maleness of most of the festival scene. If you see this logo you can be sure that women are being represented.

For ongoing up-to-date tweets about Bechdel test passing shows, in Edinburgh and beyond, follow us on Twitter @BechdelTheatre, but if you’re planning your festival calendar and want some solid advice on which shows pass the test to help you cram your month with women on stage, look no further…

(Where possible we’ve included indicators of where you can catch the shows if you’re not in Edinburgh, so have a look even if you’re not fringe-ing this year.)


This list of recommendations is uncomprehensive, and while lots of these shows are heartily endorsed, we have included as many as we could verify as Bechdel test passing (by one of a team of trusted Bechdel-testing fringe-goers). Although there’s a slight bias towards plays and performances that address feminism or gender-related issues, there are plenty where the main topic at hand is something unrelated, with a wide range of styles from drama to comedy, cabaret and musicals. We urge you to check out them all and make up your own minds about whether they were funny, interesting, groundbreaking, feminist, or whatever else you look for on stage. All we can guarantee is that women will be present in these productions!


Adler & Gibb – Summerhall 17:15 (90min) (Also at the Unicorn theatre in London, and The Lowry in Manchester)
In preparation for the film role of a lifetime, an actor goes to extreme lengths to dig up the truth. Her subject is celebrated artist Janet Adler, who rejected the art world in favour of a private life. A scaled-down version of the hit Royal Court production.

A Working Title – SpaceTriplex 21:15 (50min) 
It’s about living in the city in a generation of renters, Tinder swipers, never-left-the-nesters, budget shoppers, internshipers, over-the-recommended-daily-allowance-drinkers, minimum wage workers, sofa surfers and daydreamers. Explored with a jaunty live soundtrack, poetry, dancing and silly voices.

Bucket List – Pleasance Dome 15:50 (90min)
When her mother is murdered for protesting corporate and governmental corruption, Milagros finds herself with only a bloodstained list of those responsible. Ad Infinitum use physical storytelling, live music and song to tell this tale of love, loss and revenge.

Clean Break double bill: House and Amongst The Reeds – Assembly George Square Theatre 12:00 (90min) (Also at The Yard Theatre in London)
Two plays for the price of one, from the acclaimed company founded by women prisoners.
House: Pat returns to her childhood home after a five year absence, ready to forgive her mother.
Amongst The Reeds: Oni and Gillian have made their home in a disused office block, finding dangerous ways to stay hidden without the authorities catching up with them.

Dani Girl – Greenside @ Royal Terrace 10:30 (90min)
When Dani, a precocious nine-year-old, loses her hair to leukemia, she embarks on a magical journey to get it back. A tale of life in the face of death, hope in the face of despair, and the indomitable power of the human imagination.

Empty Beds – Underbelly Cowgate 13:50 (1hr) 
The Wyld sisters tend to avoid one another, today they’re trapped on a train 250 miles from home, en route to visit their brother in a psychiatric hospital. Explores the human impact of cuts to mental health services.

Expensive Shit – Traverse Theatre  11:00, 13:15, 13:30, 16:00, 18:45, 19:30, 21:45 (70min)
The story of a nightclub toilet attendant working in the toilets of a fictional club based on the Shimmy Club in Glasgow, her conflicted journey spliced with flashbacks to the toilets of the Shrine nightclub in Lagos.

Glasgow Girls – Assembly Hall 14:20 (90min) (if you miss it in Edinburgh see it at Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, Oxford Playhouse, Macrobert Arts Centre in Stirling, Theatre Royal Stratford East in London, Dundee Rep Theatre)
Based on the true story of seven feisty teenagers whose lives change forever when their school friend and her asylum-seeking family are forcibly taken from their home to be deported.  They are galvanised to fight for her life, taking on the government and succeeding where others failed, capturing the imagination of the media and inspiring a whole community to unite behind its residents.

In Tents and Purposes – Assembly George Square Studios 13:30 (1hr) 

Comic 2-hander in which Roxy Dunn (also writer of the piece) and Alys Metcalf explore how much power fate and fortune really has on the lives of two just-graduated 20-somethings. They talk about everything from pubes and doggy-do, to ‘what would Bridget Christie do?’

My World Has Exploded A Little Bit – Underbelly Cowgate 13:10 (70min)
Part true story and part absurd performance lecture, Bella and her piano-playing assistant Eva provide a logical, philosophical guide to managing mortality. They dispense practical advice and actual hugs.

Nel – Pleasance Dome 15:00 (1hr)
Nel is a foley artist who brings films to life through sound. Her story explores identity, friendship and what it means to be an introvert.

Octopus – Assembly George Square Theatre 13:45 (1hr) (Also at Theatre503 October 11th-15th)
Set in a world where ‘Britishness’ is state defined, three women decide to resist definition altogether. They talk about The Spice Girls, The Slits, national identity, race and religion.

Overshadowed – Assembly Roxy 13:20 (70min) (Also touring Ireland throughout October)

This story of a young woman’s experience of anorexia aims to provoke compassion and debate around the subject of eating disorders.

Tagged – theSpace @ Jury’s Inn 17:35 (50min)
Tagged follows two girls, Seanette and Lynn, who are caught in a cycle of reoffending and breaching court orders, and explores the issues that cause young people to act out and the challenges that confront them when trying to change.

Two Man Show – Summerhall Northern Stage 20:15 (70min) (If you miss it at Edinburgh see it at Soho Theatre in London)
Subversive and punky RashDash are arguably the angriest feminists at this year’s fringe, despite the name of this show and it’s declared aim to explore masculinity, these 3 performers are most definitely women and they have a lot more to talk about than just men.

Zero Down – Pleasance Courtyard 13:00 (1hr)
Three women working at a care home on zero-hours contracts, not all of them are completely honest, all of them are completely believable. A timely thought-provoking play which raises important questions about integrity, morality and society.

Help – Just The Tonic at the Mash House 11:45 (50min)
Comedy duo Bae want to help you help yourself, in this spot-on spoof of pseudo-gurus out to profit from the quest of the wealthy for health and mindfulness.

Hot Brown Honey – Assembly Roxy 20:20 (65min) (if you miss it in Edinburgh, see it at Hull Truck Theatre and Dublin Fringe Festival)
Widely hailed as THE feminist cabaret to catch while you’re in town: a potent punch of hip hop politics, Hot Brown Honey serves up dance, poetry, comedy, circus, striptease and song.

Kitten Killers: Stallions – Underbelly George Square 21:30 (1hr)
Clever, silly, weird and wonderful sketch comedy, with bonus Bechdel test references.

Manic Pixie Dream Girls – Just The Tonic at the Mash House 17:00 (50min)
Stand-ups Sophie Duker and Erin Simmons host a different lady comic every day. These two have great chemistry and provide a fun way to get a taste of some of the funniest female talent at the fringe.
Notflix – Gilded Balloon Teviot 15:15 (1hr)
All-female musical comedy improvisation troupe presents the worst movie you’ve ever seen, with a live band.

The Guilty Feminist Podcast – Gilded Balloon Teviot Aug 15-17 and 22-24 16:00 (75min) (If you miss it in Edinburgh listen to the recordings at theguiltyfeminist.com)
Deborah Frances-White and Sofie Hagen record their brilliant podcast live at the festival. Each week Sofie, Deborah and a special guest discuss topics “all 21st century feminists agree on” while confessing their insecurities, hypocrisies and fears that underlie their lofty principles.

The Travelling Sisters – Pleasance Courtyard 22:45 
Accomplished sketches from a multi-talented trio of Aussie women. Impressively combining musical mastery, surreal flights of fancy, and rough-and-tumble clowning, the perfect balance of pace and mayhem for a late-night comedy slot.

(Stretching the limits of Bechdel testing to include solo shows that feature more than one female voice in the form of multi-role performances, audience involvement, and recordings)

Ada Campe in Cress! – CC Blooms 15:00 (1hr)
Delightfully shouty silliness, magic, and audience interaction galore from an accomplished variety queen and alter-ego of feminist theatre academic Naomi Paxton.

Alison Spittle discovers Hawaii – Gilded Balloon at The Counting House 13:45 (50min)
Talks to her inflatible palm tree, Pam, and various housemates. Hilarious and heartwarming. Don’t expect a tropical holiday, but do look forward to flaunting your Lei for the rest of the fest.

Fabric – Underbelly Cowgate 11:55 (70min)
A tour-de-force performance from Nancy Sullivan in a deeply harrowing play by Abi Zakarian. Sullivan’s solo performance as bright-spark Leah explores many female relationships along the way, throwing into sharp relief the couple of toxic men whose behaviour is the main focus of the play. The voices of other female friends and family members reach out to Leah in the form of voice-mail recordings. Brace yourself.

JOAN – Underbelly Cowgate 19:20 (70min)
The familiar story of Joan of Arc is made poignantly touching, sparklingly contemporary, and smartly funny. Expertly performed by Lucy Jane Parkinson aka Drag King LoUis CYfer, whose powerful ownership of the stage combined with endearing vulnerability gains the unerring trust of the audience who she enlists to help tell the tale. Talks to her spirit mentor St Katherine an awful lot.

Lolly 2 – Pleasance Courtyard 18:00 (1hr)
Lolly Adefope’s characters are mostly (but not all) women, and definitely all hysterically funny. She begins as a quiz-show host talking to competitor ‘Stephanie’, so passes the test in the first sentence, and has the most searingly funny sketch of the festival as ‘Black Hermione’. 

Rainbow Class – Assembly Hall 19:15 (1hr)
Primary school teacher Vivienne Acheampong gives a comic insight into life in an inner-city school in this character comedy show. Combining verbatim text, stories and real life characters. 

Scorch – Roundabout at Summerhall 18:05 (1hr)
A story of a gender-curious teen. Main character Kes has a moving love affair with a girl and a supportive platonic relationship with a transwoman. Kes is played in a stunning performance by Amy McAllister, but her character doesn’t conform to the gender-binary implied by Bechdel testing. On this journey of Kes discovering language that allows for self-identification in a world still sadly associating gender with biological sex, playwright Stacey Gregg exposes how far we have to go before society catches up, and regards Kes and all her real-life equivalents as purely human, without anything else mattering. 

Smurthwaite on Masculinity – Banshee Labyrinth 19:15 (1hr)
If you liked the sound of Two Man Show’s exploration of the pitfalls of the patriarchy via sharp skewering of hyper-masculinity and so-called manly behaviour, but prefer an intimate stand-up show to interpretive dance, choose Kate. If you like both styles, do as we did and catch both shows. See also: Late with Kate, Smurthwaite’s midnight comedy showcase at Canon’s Gait.

Sofie Hagen: Shimmer Shatter – Liquid Room Annexe 19:50 (1hr)
Talks to her therapist (who explodes everyone’s hearts at the end – in a good way).  A fair bit about men, but crucially not all. Confessional comedy at its bitter-sweetest.

Every effort has been made to include the correct information, but do let us know if we’ve got it wrong. Happy Bechdel testing!

Bechdel Theatre Festival

Today was the launch of Bechdel Theatre Festival, a year-long programme of events highlighting theatre that represents women as complex, diverse and not defined by men. 

For the next year (until March 2017) we will be holding pop-up conversations inspired by (and in association with) productions that pass the Bechdel Test with flying colours. Events will encourage audiences and theatre-makers to talk to each other about what we love to see (and want to see more of) when women are present on stage. 
All events will be free, informal, and aimed at capturing the optimism surrounding increasing representation for women in theatre, and using it to spread the word from committed feminist theatre-lovers and creators to new audiences who may have been put off by theatre’s elitist reputation.
The festival is be a celebration of the best work representing women, appreciating theatre of any style and scale, from the biggest West End hit to the smallest fringe show, from brand new work to ancient plays revived, as long as the women on stage represent women in life, with a range of ages, races, shapes, sizes, sexualities, disabilities, backgrounds, jobs and relationships.
For more information about the launch and festival events, see our new website: bechdeltheatre.com and keep up-to-date with twitter.com/bechdeltheatre.

Looking through a different lens

Bechdel Testing Theatre in 2016

2016 is looking exciting, as the conversation about #WomenInTheatre continues to intensify, with deeper questions building and expanding on the theme of “Where are the women?”. 
Last week saw an article in The Guardian featuring some of the best female practitioners of recent times railing against (and occasionally smashing down) the barriers faced by women in theatre. Sarah Crompton’s article rightly applauds the writers and directors who are “tearing up the script” of theatre’s long-embedded sexist hierarchy in senior jobs, building a new canon and shaking up the old classics to find and create opportunities for actresses. Despite this heady sense of change in the air, Crompton notes that there is still “a general feeling among female playwrights that their gender means their work is viewed differently”, and ponders why this might be, since “It’s not as if women are absent from the theatregoers’ gaze” (a claim made with reference only to the Royal Court’s latest lady-laden season – a shining example to much of the theatre world, where we still have to focus that gaze concertedly to find such a diverse range of women on stage). Duncan MacMillan muses on responses to the female protagonist of his play, People Places and Things: “the character’s gender is very visible somehow, whereas if it was a male character I don’t think we would think twice”, and Vicky Featherstone wonders if last year’s lukewarm-reviewed How To Hold Your Breath had “had a male central character, would people have liked it more?”, whether it is “something in our cultural DNA that makes us respond differently when a play has a central male character?”. 

They’re some big questions, as Crompton points out. They’re complicated, but too important to just be left hanging there. Researchers have been looking for possible answers:

Do audiences respond differently to male characters?
Hailey Bachrach conducted a revealing experiment, showing the same play, created through the same preparation process, swapping the characters genders in various combinations, and recorded audience responses. Lo and behold, audiences interpreted exactly the same lines and actions differently according to gender, using different words: “coward” for men only, “strong” and “independent” for women only, and passing different judgements on the character’s “emotional” state of mind or “moral compass”. It seems that characters under a spotlight suffer from the same gendered behaviour expectations as people do real life, with their fictionality allowing viewer bias to be highlighted as audiences are encouraged to express their judgements openly and honestly. Note, Michael Billington’s description of Maxine Peake’s “chirpy, bright-eyed resilience” in the How To Hold Your Breath review linked above. 

Whether audiences and critics would have favoured a play with a male protagonist isn’t proved by this experiment, but it is certainly evident that responses to characters are highly influenced by gender.

Maxine Peake, remaining chirpy in spite of dystopian circumstances

It’s also notable in the audience feedback that much judgement of characters was based upon how women and men interact with each other (for example assuming that it is a man’s duty to ‘protect’ a woman). This leads a Bechdel-tester to wonder what the influence on perception might be if female characters are seen interacting with other women in a scene before any men are present on stage, perhaps asserting authority or showing excellent negotiating and debating skills, would their relationships to men be less likely to be viewed stereotypically, as either dependant or interfering?
I would be interested to see a version of this experiment where a Bechdel-passing scene is inserted and removed, to test what difference it makes to perceptions of women on stage when they’re seen outside of their relationship to men.

Do we prefer male characters, written by men?
Purple Seven‘s study (reported in The Stage with a positive headline emphasising equality improvements of recent years), explores the gender gap in opportunities available to women in theatre, and in critical ratings. Their findings:

  • Male playwrights write 37% parts for women. Female playwrights write 60% female parts. Male writers and directors command bigger stages and higher ticket prices, and in 2015 wrote 68% of plays staged.
  • Critics award more 4 and 5 star ratings to plays with majority casts of their own gender, with male reviewer’s bias more heavily weighted towards male casts.
Stats from PurpleSeven

On the question of whether greater ticket sales mean that audiences “prefer” male-led plays, the findings are unclear because without equality of opportunity – a similar number of female-led plays staged in equally sized and priced venues – it’s difficult to say whether we “simply attend what’s on offer”. It may be that producers and artistic directors believe that male-led plays are a “safer bet”, however, with a 65% female customer base, reviewer ratings showing that women like watching women, and a trend towards female prominence rising, it’s hard to imagine that it would be a wasted effort to search out and commission female-led plays.

Whilst not comprehensive, this study and Bachrach’s experiment go some way to confirming that the suspicions of the professionals feeling a distinct difference in tone of critical reception as well as level of representation, are based on reality and not some kind of feminist-biased paranoia. Purple Seven’s stats offer hope, showing that the number of jobs for women in theatre is growing, offering an increase in opportunities for women to take control of the way we are presented, to create characters that challenge the gendered readings of human interaction shown by Bachrach’s audiences, and transform perceptions of women on stage and in society

Looking through a different lens
There is understandable wariness in this creative industry of looking too long and hard at statistics, a justified fear of producing new work to tick boxes and satisfy quotas – but while playing a numbers game is no method for creating great art, there is evidence that where women are given extra support, encouragement and opportunity, by companies making an effort to combat the extra level of judgement and bias faced by female creators and characters, a balance can be achieved without sacrificing quality.

In an assessment of their work following Ireland’s #WakingTheFeminists movement, new play company Fishamble, found that the gender balance of playwrights was higher in female representation when specific submissions were called for, or when active support was offered, than amongst unsolicited offerings – it was when the company made an effort to reach out that a greater standard of equality was achieved. This important discovery which contains a valuable clue as to how to practically and effectively balance gender-representation within a theatre’s programming, came about thanks to the loud voices (in person and on social media) of women in the industry and audience who spoke out and made demands for representation. #WakingTheFeminists is a powerful example of the impact and changes that are possible when campaigners at all levels of our career or involvement in theatre get together and make a lot of noise.

Wear your feminism on your sleeve (or bag, or lapel)

Vicky Featherstone said that she disagrees with quotas in favour of ‘choosing the best play’, but herself has demonstrated a willingness to seek out a high number of female writers and directors and include a more diverse range of roles for women that represents statistical progress towards equality in gender representation. Though not using a quota system, Featherstone’s gender-balanced and high-calibre season demonstrates the effectiveness of putting a feminist with acutely-honed gender awareness in a position of power. She has, as she put it herself, the ability to look ‘through a different lens’ as a result of being part of the conversation about women in theatre, using her own feminist perspective to fulfil quotas without ever having had to impose them. The fact that her season has made headlines suggests that more pressure is needed on other theatres, producers and artistic directors to make a 50% female season normal instead of noteworthy.

Harris and Featherstone, unfortunately still part of a minority amongst theatre establishment figures

Shout to be heard 
More noise can still be made about the importance of aiming for equality of representation, whether it’s achieved through high-level awareness of feminists in programming positions or through stats being published and companies being held to account, but that noise needs to come from somewhere, which is why @BechdelTheatre encourages audiences, actors, directors, anyone participating in this industry at any level, to cheer loudly at every step in the right direction. Shout about every great script or show that represents the diversity and complexity of the female humans who make up half of our population,  and do it just as loudly as we condemn every male-centric season or stereotyped female casting. Remind your colleagues and fellow theatre-goers to switch on their internal gender-awareness alarm when reading a script or casting breakdown, or buying a ticket to a play. Make a resolution to always ask:

  • Is more than one woman involved in this show? 
  • Are they writing or directing? 
  • Does it pass the Bechdel Test? 

If you know of a female-led production or company at any level, representing a diverse range of women in high-quality work, congratulate them, support them by buying tickets, and next time bring along a feminist friend who thinks “theatre’s not for me” – to prove them wrong. 

If you’re a playwright, deviser or looking to create brand new work this year, you could commit to answering the questions above, and then go a step further by consulting the Sphinx Test to put women at the centre of your stage:

Sphinx Theatre’s list of considerations for theatre-makers writing female characters

The big hope #WomenInTheatre for 2016 is for everyone inspired and empowered by #WakingTheFeminists to put even more pressure on artistic directors and producers to use their audience-eye-view, step up to the mark and consider which plays and characters will most please increasingly diversity-aware female-majority audiences, and which ones will help shift the (white/straight/upper-class/non-disabled) male-preferential bias (in both theatre and society) into the realms of history.