I’d Do Anything – but I won’t do that…

// 4 June 2008

So Jodie Prenger has been named the new Nancy for the christmas opening version of Oliver! Congratulations!

But I was disquieted somewhat by the ways in which the women were encouraged to talk about the role. I’m thinking about such quotes as “I was born to play Nancy” or “The more this competition has gone on the more I realise I am Nancy”. I have a less romanticised notion of this and ask whether these participants meant “I was born to play the role of an alcoholic, battered prostitute who dies at the hands of her male partner/pimp”. Somehow seems less, well, desirable that way.

But this led me to thinking about the role available in the West End at the moment. And it’s actually quite depressing. Seems women, according to musicals, should fit into one of four categories:

1. the tragic heroine (Fontine, Les Mis for example, or Nancy; Grease (who then becomes 4))

2. the virginal maiden (Cosette, Les Mis; Maria, Sound of Music; Dirty Dancing; Phantom of the Opera)

3. the one-to-blame-for-everything (the Mothers, Blood Brothers)

4. the sexually promiscous (Sally, Cabaret; Chicago; Witches of Eastwick)

Exceptions? – Kate Monster (Avenue Q) and to some extent Elphaba (Wicked, although she could by type 1). So, yes, there we have it – tragic figure, virgin, harpy or whore. And as if to prove my point see this forthcoming delight:

All Bob’s Women – Arts Theatre

Bob is a man on a mission: to seduce five different women and keep them apart so they don’t become aware of his other conquests. This Lothario is so desperate to score with them all and keep their existence unknown to the others that he resorts to extreme measures to learn their secret desires.

And whilst we’re on flagrant abuses of culture – Angry Lesbians drew our attention to this film just started filming – Lesbian Vampire Killers. The plot? An ancient curse has turned all the young women in a village into lesbian vampires and two men are sent to sort it out. Lovely, or rather, as Angry Lesbians put it ” A movie shamelessly catering to men’s girl-on-girl fantasies. Once more a movie exploiting lesbians and women.” Their objections:

1. use of lesbians to titillate men (as has happened over the years). (Note these lesbians are only lesbian because of a curse – so it’s always a bad thing and women are obviously “naturally” hetero unless cursed otherwise! And lesbians are seemingly blood-thirsty and violent.

2. Homosexual-as-virus which “wastes its victims and spreads its monstrosity unchecked…Coding the queer as monster allows viewers the catharsis of experiencing the terror of a threat to “normal life,” while insulating them against that threat by presenting it as a fantasy character or demimondain usually destroyed by film’s end.”

3. Derogatory to all women – shown only as “scantly clad lust objects”. If you see the cast list, the part of one actress is simply labelled: “Blonde” (to be played by Susie Amy from Moving Wallpaper/Echo Beach.

Angry lesbians have a petition going here.

Comments From You

Holly Combe // Posted 4 June 2008 at 6:18 pm

Slightly off-topic but still on the subject of the winner of the Nancy role, are Jodie Prenger’s rather alarming comments in Now magazine with regard to where she sees herself at 50:

Now: “Madonna turns 50 this year. Where would you like to be when you’re her age?”

Jodie: “I’m going to be an eccentric old woman with massive hair who owns an animal sanctuary. I’ll still be singing- just to the animals instead!”

Okay so being an eccentric old woman with massive hair and an animal sanctuary does seem kind of cool and even potentially a bit feminist. But doesn’t it also seem a little like she’s saying that she thinks she will only be fit for private animal audiences when she’s 50? Isn’t she actually implying that Madonna is too old to be in the public eye and that a 50 year old entertainer is basically “past it”?

Anne Onne // Posted 4 June 2008 at 6:37 pm

I’d love to be an eccentric old woman! But yeah, it is really worrying that we expect an enforced retirement from the public eye for older women in a way we don’t for men. men can continue entertaining, they get to be a national treasure, and brag about having kids with their 20 year old wives at 70. Women are expected to either grow old naturally, and disappear because they are hideous, or have lots of plastic surgery and get mocked for it…We can’t win.

Back to the topic!

It IS really worrying that roles and characters are really limited. Whilst I do believe that ‘strong female character’ shouldn’t just mean ‘hard woman-in-a-man’s role’ types, and that we need to acknowledge ‘feminine’ roles and women have their own strengths, there isn’t really much of either out there. Tragic sacrificial women, virgins, whores and fishwives and mothers are all defined by their usefullness to men, not their personal strengths.

The lesbian vampire film sounds awful. Homophobia and misogyny mixed together! Wow, I’m surprised they didn’t throw racism in as a hat-trick! But then I guess the vampire-lesbians are probably white, so there we go…

Feminist Avatar // Posted 4 June 2008 at 11:01 pm

Re: lesbian vampires- the rather unsubtle references to menstruation are also a bit disturbing- ‘the curse’, women driven homicidally crazy by blood, etc.

Carrie // Posted 5 June 2008 at 9:30 pm

I think the damning of musicals is a bit harsh (I speak as a total musical theatre nut). I think the male characters are equally stereotyped, and they end up falling into these categories simply because of the semiotics of the musical – there’s not enough time or room for extended characterisation, so they end up using types, and they have to be types who would plausibly burst into song or narrate their inner thoughts in detail. (Hope that makes sense.)

Also, Kate Monster’s a bit of a sap,don’t you think? She needs Princeton and Trekkie’s money to get her life’s ambition! Christmas Eve, with her two masters degrees, is a much better character!

Seph // Posted 7 June 2008 at 4:24 pm

Unfortunatly the musical’s not running anymore, but Lestat (a musical based on the novel The Vampire Lestat) had the awesome female characters of Gabrielle and Claudia.

Claudia might possibly fit into category 1, since she’s an adult trapped in a child’s body, but she’s hardly the wet blanket type.

Louise Livesey // Posted 9 June 2008 at 1:09 pm

I should say I speak as a musical theatre fan (well indeed a theatre fan, period). But I’m also a feminist playwright (in my spare time, y’know) and know how hard it is to get coverage/produced/read/heard. So that semiotics of theatre do sometimes just become a way of re-enforcing the hegemony and that’s what I object to really.

As for Kate or Christmas Eve. Problem with Christmas Eve (whilst I love the character) is the racial presentation of her and the “mock” Chinese accent (but maybe that’s just the actress I saw!). But yes. I also wouldn’t be too hard on Kate though – her sexual expression was at least hers and not defined or controlled by Princeton! Obviously her ethical stance on accepting Trekkie’s donation of “porn money” for her school was dubious though. Can anyone say “geeky”?

Seph // Posted 10 June 2008 at 8:30 pm

“is the racial presentation of her and the “mock” Chinese accent”

Sorry for being nitpicky but Christmas Eve is supposed to be Japanese, not Chinese.

I’ve never seen the entire play, but i’ve seen 5 or 6 versions of ‘Sucks to be me’ with different actors and they all have the mock accent, I think it must be in the script since i’ve specifically heard all of them say the line “I have no clients” using “cRients”.

Louise Livesey // Posted 12 June 2008 at 11:08 am

Yep Christmas Eve is meant to be Japanese but she talks in the play about effecting a mock-Chinese accent because despite two MAs the only work she can get is in a Chinese restaurant. The point being made, partly, is that there is a difference which most white people don’t get (she’s just seen as “ethnic” at worst and “asian american” at best).

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