by Lucy Kerbel

Published by Nick Hern Books

Over the years, the theatre industry has often come in for criticism for its male gender bias. And while gender equality has improved in society over the last decade, Lucy Kerbel, founder and director at Tonic Theatre, and author of 100 great plays for women, suggests that prejudices, particularly in the youth drama sector remain. Her new book, All change please. A practical guide to achieving gender equality in the theatre, outlines some of the issues and attempts a blueprint for instigating reform.

The first section theorises on the very nuances of change and what it actually represents; the latter half, has practical suggestions such as re-evaluating some of the texts that you have always kept on your classroom shelves. It’s the middle section, About Theatre, however, that is probably most relevant to English and drama teachers, and in particular a chapter devoted entirely on the impact that young people can make.

Kerbel, a former theatre director, identifies the next generation of writers, directors and performers as pivotal to the process of change, she sees young people as “pressure points”, a focus where “the investment of Tonic’s limited time and energy would return – progress wise – the biggest possible return.”

The premise centres around a survey conducted in 2012, where a cross-section of 314 people involved in extra-curricular youth drama – including young people, teachers and stakeholders – were canvassed on the opportunities for girls in youth drama.

The findings, published in a report Swimming in the shallow end (available to download at ( link), highlights the difficulties that girls face when pursuing roles. The report draws attention to the dwindling number of scripts that cater for female characters. Furthermore, the small number of roles that are suitable tend to involve playing characters that, some of the girls surveyed, said were “outdated and stereotypical.” As Kerbel notes: “If the people you are asked to embody are less than you, eventually that must begin to affect the experience you are having, and not in a positive way.”

The author’s evidence is watertight, well conveyed and successfully highlights the issues facing gender equality in today’s industry. Hollow protest speech is avoided but the need for a movement is recognised.

Just like the team of people required to create a successful production – actors, directors, set designers, technicians – and for the change to take place, all of us need to take note, take it seriously and take action.

Review by Mark Glover