The Bluffers’ Guide to: Women on Stage

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The Femme Fatale

My God, she’s sexy. But not in a wholesome kind of way, and certainly not in a way of which your mother would approve. To use a word laden with feminist connotations, the femme fatale is nothing if not problematic, both for the women who watch her and the men unlucky enough to be caught in her trap onstage. Unlike the strumpet, who simply romps with wild abandon, the femme fatale chooses her prey and conducts a systemized and highly strategic plan of attack and seduction, until such point as the leading man either champions above it, leaving her looking silly, or yields to her many temptations. And then what? She’ll either lose interest virtually immediately, or he’ll come to his senses, leaving her lost and alone – until someone else comes her way, and the cycle repeats itself.

Cherwell’s pick: ‘Lady Macbeth’, Macbeth

The Strumpet

The moral opposite of the Love Interest waiting patiently for her man, she provides a fantastically entertaining contrast, without necessitating too much thought on the part of either the playwright or the audience. Useful as a plot device to throw herself at one of the male characters, or to provide symbolic temptation; also useful if you think the audience is getting bored and need some snogging to get them interested again. Basically shorthand for ‘young, free and single’, so best played as nothing but giggles and seductive smiles. Perpetual drunkenness is definitely an option, as is the rendition of a bawdy musical number, ideally with all her strumpet friends.  A character best relegated to chorus duties, or possibly as a lasting love interest for some minor comedic role.

Cherwell’s pick: ‘Jaquenetta’, Love’s Labour’s Lost

The Biddy

Perhaps a housekeeper or nanny, the extent of whose contribution is to wander around the stage fidgeting with props while more serious conversations take place, or to walk in at comically or tragically  inopportune moments. Actresses require the ability to walk in a slow, shuffling manner, whilst wringing their hands or carrying a cup of tea. Ability to affect a regional accent is desirable, but not required. Depending on the tone of the play, you may like to have the old woman drop sexual innuendo into the conversation, ideally in the presence of the younger, better looking cast members. If it’s not a comedy, however, expect lots of charmingly antiquated, but surprisingly relevant advice. And if you favour a more touching ending, perhaps introduce an elderly man for her to pine over.

Cherwell’s pick: ‘Mrs Elton’, The Deep Blue Sea

The Love Interest

When Shakespeare wrote women, they always had to end up either with a man or dead, passed from the protection of their father to a new husband. It may have been the TudorPeriod, but what reason do you have to break the Great Bard’s tradition? Write the love interest like this as passively as possible – her purpose is either to be fought over by two male characters or to drive a man to madness by her cold indifference. Requires a pretty actress who can sit on stage in a dressing gown (or something similar) and provide the audience for impressive speeches delivered by her various suitors. Not rambunctiously sexual, but certainly with a degree of charm, frequently in a common-or-garden English sort of way. Seriously undermined if she doesn’t end up with a man – what else is she there for?

Cherwell’s pick: ‘Adelaide’, Guys and Dolls

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