Jewish Women Writers at the National Theatre

Research on British-Jewish theatre has focused on the first generation of post-war playwrights, such as Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, Arnold Wesker or Peter Shaffer. In general, too little attention has been paid to the women who have transformed British-Jewish theatre as part of a larger trend of gradually redressing gender relations in the traditionally male-dominated theatre. Our Companion to British-Jewish Theatre seeks to redress this situation, examining how British-Jewish women playwrights have represented, or chosen not to represent, Jewish identity in their work.

In the context of our work, we have discussed how British-Jewish women writers have been represented on the stages of the National Theatre and made some inquiries with the very helpful staff at the NT Archives. This is what we found:

According to information by the NT Archive, prior to the South Bank building, the first play by a woman staged by the National Theatre was The Advertisement by Jewish writer Natalia Ginzburg, at the Old Vic, in 1968. The first play staged in the South Bank building (Lyttelton stage) by a woman was Watch on the Rhine by Jewish writer Lillian Hellman, which opened on 22nd August 1980. This was followed in 1987, by Michelene Wandor’s The Wandering Jew (adapted from the novel by Eugene Sue, also at the Lyttleton)). The first play staged in the Cottesloe by a woman was The Women by Clare Booth, which opened on 24th March 1986. Her Naked Skin by Rebecca Lenkiewicz was the first original play to be performed by a woman at the Olivier stage, after two earlier plays written by women had been adaptations: Pam Gems’s adaptation of The Seagull in 1991, and Helen Edmundson’s Coram Boy in 2005).

Eckart Voigts 20/09/2022