Think of some female archetypes. Bitch, mother, virgin, whore, femme fatale. Easy right? Now think of some male archetypes. Soldier, maybe? Science geek? World leader? In films, books, plays, fairy tales, songs and comics, traditional characters of both genders crop up over and over again, put there to fulfill a set role and drive the narrative forward. There’s just one pretty huge difference between male and female archetypes: set roles for men aren’t necessarily associated with gender, while set roles for women always are. Though it might seem an obvious point to make, female archetypes – like those listed above – are always inherently linked to female sexuality. And that is getting really rather tiresome.
I don’t think I set out to write Character with a specific agenda in mind. It came about the same way everything I write comes about: I had a good idea and thought “I should probably write that”. About a year later it was finished and I realised that I’d been writing something with an agenda at its heart all along. That being, the promotion of female characters who aren’t defined by their gender, bodies or sexuality.
Further to this, I find myself increasingly keen to see more roles for women that challenge the audience’s expectations and evade easy definition altogether. The two women I created for Character represent (admittedly exaggerated) versions of womanhood that I recognize and know to be true. They are both flawed, both funny, both struggling, and at times seriously unlikeable. They are multi-faceted, hard to pin down and, I hope, ultimately sympathetic.
More than anything, I see Character as a play about the complicated relationship between its two leads. A while ago someone told me that the most interesting friendships to portray are those between two men. But isn’t it just the case that we haven’t had the opportunity to see real friendships between women portrayed on the stage and screen; ones that not only pass the all-important Bechdel test, but challenge saccharine Sex and the City-style notions of “sisterhood”?
Writing this play, and seeing it produced by the excellent people at Blackshaw, has made me realise just how much I care about seeing more complex, interesting roles for women crop up in film, theatre and TV. I only hope that the characters I’ve written resonate with people, and go some way to challenging existing ideas about what it means to be a woman.
And beyond that? I’d just like to make people laugh.
– Florence Vincent