By Leila Sackur and Juliette Simon
Inclusivity is at the heart of the ethos behind the genius The Man Presents: More Women, which has enjoyed a stellar run as the ADC Late Show this week. With a rotating cast of 16 performing on alternate nights, The Man Presents features a divine selection of women in comedy, all delivering character monologues which are stunning in their breadth and detail.
But let’s step back to the birth of More Women- or to, the birth of Women in general. Molly Stacey and Katt Weaver, the brains behind the operation, describe how they came up with the concept as a result of being a part of- and sitting through- countless male- dominated comedy ventures at the ADC and feeling as if there wasn’t a space for women within them. “When you’re cast in comedy as a woman, the role you’re given often won’t necessarily be funny at all”; indeed, the plight of comedy in Cambridge is that male- written, male- led sketch shows will often feature women only as secondary, one dimensional characters, often relegated to the love interest, the supporting role, or simply an irrelevance with around 2 seconds of stage time. Some shows in Cambridge would barely pass the Bechdel test; a low bar to reach as it already stands. So the misrepresentation of women in Cambridge theatre is a tragicomedy in itself; and this helps to provide Stacey and Weaver with the backdrop for their concept. Women write and perform their own characters (often caricatures of the same pitiful characters we would previously have been given by men), and lo, The Man Presents: Women was born.
The OG version, back in Easter 2017, completely sold out its run at the Corpus Playroom. Off the back of this success there was clearly room for the concept to develop and expand. This is exactly what Stacey and Weaver have done, not only in the development of a sequel with greater space and almost double the amount of women, but through the creation of a writing workshop prior to auditions, open to all women and non- binary people. It gives those who were new to the scene the opportunity to develop their writing and work with experienced old- timers, collaborating on ideas. Led at first by Emma Plowright (who’s high- vis vest- clad monologue as a construction site worker I particularly enjoyed in More Women), we were directed in absurdist improvisation games which featured a variety of references to lying under cloaks in the foetal position. The effect of the improvisation was a good one; it broke down boundaries and created a supportive atmosphere, encouraging laughter along the way. Attendees were then split into groups and devised premises for sketches based on various ludicrous headlines from tabloids and women’s magazines (such as the foolproof piece of relationship advice “to avoid criticism- do nothing!”). The workshop was also useful simply in terms of humanizing those involved in the creative process of the show. Auditioning, especially for comedy, can be scary- you’re putting yourself on the line in a way that’s different to acting. After all, in a character monologue, you wrote it, and you’re performing it, so there often can be a feeling that if something goes wrong- it’s all on you. But the opportunity to meet Molly and Katt and others involved mitigated this effect; the people auditioning you are no longer faceless, more experienced strangers, they’re people you’ve worked with, laughed with, and potentially shared a party ring with. Even if the workshop hadn’t been remotely helpful, (which it was) the relaxing atmosphere in the first place would have gone a long way in encouraging new people to get involved. Indeed, a good proportion of those in attendance at the workshop were freshers; a hopeful outlook for more women looking to get involved in comedy into years to come.
Stacey seemed keen for The Man Presents to continue to create a legacy of women continuing to get involved in comedy in Cambridge. As she points out- it’s not as if women being big in comedy has never existed before here- Emma Thompson or Sue Perkins spring to mind; but the trend that we can see is still one of comedy still being an incredibly male- dominated space, with perhaps a few women breaking down barriers now and again. Cambridge also echoes the trend of the wider world of comedy; the whole industry is riddled with inequality. Women are told that we don’t even matter as audience members either; James Corden’s Harvey Weinstein routine at the amFAR gala in Los Angeles on October 15 reminds us that women are not only secondary characters when men write comedy but our safety is also the secondary priority to getting a few cheap laughs for feeble jokes about sexual violence. But in Cambridge, Man Presents is gaining momentum; and their reviews and increasing popularity is a testament to the high quality of the content. As a concept, it’s also not alone in a trend of an active attempt being made to increase gender representation in Cambridge comedy; over the summer Ania Magliano- Wright, Emma Plowright and Ruby Keane set up Stockings, an alternative collective for women and non- binary people with an interest in writing and watching comedy.
I watched The Man Presents: More Women on Wednesday night and cried with laughter. Stacey and Weaver have carved out an excellent niche- and there’s hope that maybe, this time, this time, women in comedy are here to stay.
The Man Presents: More Women continues tonight at 11pm at the ADC theatre.
Featured image credit to Laura Wells