New PDF release: Carry on Understudies: Theatre and Sexual Politics

By Michelene Wandor

`one hell of a seminal learn ... here's a e-book that grapples, with strength, ingenuity and fantastic highbrow rigour, with a bewildering woodland of concerns round gender and politics ... illuminating, insightful, perceptive.' - Women's evaluation

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Capitalist Magician Mr Marvo wore a huge cloak lined with money, and was accompanied by his obedient and sexy sidekick, Poodle; Members of Parliament did deals with each other and with the unions using oversized playing cards. Against this backdrop the women workers began to get together to organise out from the bottom of the capitalist heap, confronting their bosses and their husbands. The play was based on a strike for equal pay by women machinists at Fords in 1968. Barbara Castle (heavily lampooned throughout) was Minister of Employment in the Labour government at the time.

Still Harping on Daughters, Harvester Press, 1983, p. 9) One of the reasons why the theatre was seen as encouraging immorality was connected with the complex erotic response of the audience to the performance of boys in the female roles. Recalling the prohibition in Deuteronomy—‘The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord their God’ (22:5), some Elizabethans saw the stage presentation of boys wearing women’s clothes as letting loose a whole nest of sexual vipers: Sexuality, misdirected towards the boy masquerading in female dress, is ‘stirred’ by attire and gesture; male prostitution and perverted sexual activity is the inevitable accompaniment of female impersonation.

Having said that, however, it is clear that even here there is a gender imbalance. While the theatrical traditions of ‘camp’ and ‘drag’ have their roots in the relationship of women to the theatre, as well as to the relationship of homosexuals to the theatre, their history has been largely dominated by men, for the same reasons that other theatre forms have been maledominated. There was no visible subculture for lesbians until later in this century, unlike the situation for male homosexuals. And lesbianism was not illegal so there were few spectacular court cases and no compelling reason for a political campaign on the question.

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