David Benedict on theatre

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The Independent Culture
Behind every silver lining, there's a drab, dank cloud, as the now defunct Women in Entertainment discovered when embarking upon a survey of female dramatists back in the early 1980s. Over a 12-month period, of all the hundreds of plays in London and regional repertory theatres, 28 were written by women. Nothing to shout about... well, shameful actually. But on closer inspection, the news was even worse. Twenty-six of them were by Agatha Christie. Even Vanessa Redgrave in Michael Apted's curiously intriguing film Agatha couldn't quite reclaim the queen of crime as a feminist icon, though Marion Shaw and Sabine Vanacker had a damn good stab at it in Reflecting on Miss Marple (Routledge 1991).

Judging by the swagger of the new lad backlash, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Eighties and the Nineties saw an explosion of women's work and that the poor things hadn't had a look in. Stuff and nonsense, of course, but boys will be boys.

Still, the 1980s did bring us important work by Caryl Churchill, Timberlake Wertenbaker and Sarah Daniels, plus newer voices like Clare McIntyre, Phyllis Nagy and Sarah Kane. The same battle they face not to be patronised as "women writers" was being fought by Mrs Aphra Behn in the 1680s. Virginia Woolf acclaimed her as the first English woman to earn her living as a writer, with 15 plays, plus poems and novels to her credit. The Rover (below), her most popular play, was revived by the RSC in the 1980s and in something of a coup, it is now at the newly thriving Salisbury Playhouse in tandem with its sequel, The Banished Cavalier, unseen since its 1681 premiere. Why? The manuscript was lost for centuries and the last reprint was in 1915. Jonathan Church's production of The Rover has been rapturously received. With the sequel, he's confident of pulling off the double.

Salisbury Playhouse (01722 320333) to 25 May

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