Established playwrights including April De Angelis and Richard Bean will this weekend join emerging writers to present 10 new and swiftly written short plays which respond to the current wave of sexual harassment scandals.
Theatre503 in south-west London is staging three days of plays and panel discussions exploring themes of consent, power and the new normal.
De Angelis, writer of the West End hit Jumpy, praised the London theatre for its boldness. “How brave and creative of 503 to say, ‘Let’s do it and let’s do it now,’” she said. It is great that they could react so quickly, like a bigger theatre hasn’t been able to do – or hasn’t done.”
Her play will centre on an intergenerational encounter. “I’ve tried to not write the obvious, I’ve looked at the idea of what being empowered to speak means. Who has the power to speak? Why it can be difficult to speak. It seems the easiest thing in the world but actually, why has it been difficult in the past?”
One aspect of the debate has been the sometimes differing views of older women and younger women, something brought into focus with comments this week by Germaine Greer, who criticised the “whingeing” #MeToo movement.
The backlash against Greer has saddened De Angelis. “I’d hate people to just dismiss her, I think it’s awful,” she says. “You can disagree with her but why denigrate her? She is a warrior and she has come through a lot of battles and maybe there’s something in what she says as well as there being something you want to take issue with.”
On the plays’ subject area, she said: “The whole point of theatre is that it is not black and white, it is always interested in the nuances, the difficulties, the conflicts, the obstacles. Good theatre is not a simple ideological statement.”
Lisa Spirling, Theatre503’s artistic director, said they were not setting out to come up with definitive answers. “It feels a little like we are dipping our toe in. No one has the answer to what we’re in, everyone is finding their way. For us it is very much the start of a conversation.”
The project has been undertaken at lightning speed. Spirling began approaching writers in December and a diverse cast of actors began rehearsing the plays, all under 10 minutes long, on Monday.
None of the plays are verbatim pieces, Spirling said. “It is writers being inspired about the world around them and digging a little deeper. Sometimes it is writers investigating really uncomfortable aspects of the subject.”
The full lineup of writers is De Angelis, Bean, Chris Bush, Dipika Guha, Fergus Church, Amy Evans, Kevin Forde, Patrick Russell, Elise van Lil and Deidan Williams.
Bean’s play will look at relationships in the future. “The genius of Richard is that he sets something up, then he pulls the rug from under you,” said Spirling.
After performances of the 10 plays there will be discussions, with diverse panels that will include psychiatrists, academics, journalists and people who have been at the centre of social media storms. Among the participants will be Erica Whyman, deputy artistic director of the RSC, the literary agent Mel Kenyon, and the writer and columnist Kate Maltby. Spirling said it was important that the theatre did not become not a kind of “liberal echo chamber”.
Theatre503 is a small theatre, above a pub in Battersea, that regularly punches above its weight. It has a track record of responding to contemporary events: last January it hosted a weekend of commissioned short plays responding to Donald Trump’s election.
This year’s festival will be titled The Words Are Coming Now. Spirling said: “Everyone at some point has had a conversation about it, someone they care about or someone at work, everyone has their own experiences. It can be an hour later, a year later, it can be 50 years later and people think, ‘Now I want to say something.’”
• The Words Are Coming Now is at Theatre503, London, 25-27 January.