'WE GOT TOO SCARED OF FEMINISM'; Women, Power and Politics Is the Tricycle's Latest Cycle of New Plays by Some of Our Best Female Writers -- and It Couldn't Be More Timely, Director Indhu Rubasingham Tells Johanna Thomas-Corr

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Byline: Johanna Thomas-Corr

AS the new Government was called to Downing Street last month and David Cameron's Cabinet filled up with white public-school boys, it was hard to suppress a feeling of dismay. Why does Britain have a smaller percentage of female ministers than almost every other European country? Is Theresa May all we have to show for a century of women's suffrage? Meanwhile, at the Tricycle, director Indhu Rubasingham saw the season of plays exploring these very issues that she was rehearsing become highly urgent. The small Kilburn theatre has carved a reputation for asking the big questions -- and the current Women, Power and Politics season could hardly be more timely. "We knew that we would be running the season around the time of a general election but we did not know it was going to be so on the money," says Rubasingham, when I meet her at the Tricycle.

A friendly and tenacious figure in the theatre world, who recently directed Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer-winning play Ruined at the Almeida, she has built her career on directing new plays, often by women about women. Now in her late thirties, she was born in Sheffield and her family are Tamils from Sri Lanka, which has a strong tradition of women in politics, having elected the first female prime minister in the world, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, in 1960 -- "We got one ages before Thatcher."

"It's like we have gone back in time," Rubasingham continues. "Loads of the publicity around the recent election here was about politicians' wives rather than any women in politics.

"It needed to get worse before any of us realised what was going on. We all became complacent as a generation, and we got scared of the word 'feminism'."

The season follows a similar format to last year's Olivier-nominated Great Game cycle, also directed by Rubasingham with the Tricycle's artistic director Nicolas Kent, in which 13 playwrights dramatised the history of Afghanistan from contrasting perspectives. Described by many critics as the theatrical event of 2009, it returns next month to Kilburn before a US tour.

Women, Power and Politics -- commissioned and directed by Rubasingham and comprising nine 20- to 30-minute plays, a film festival in the Tricycle's cinema and a small exhibition -- aims to emulate Great Game's success, this time focusing on events closer to home.

The plays are divided into two programmes entitled Then, which explores the historical perspective of women and politics, and Now, which brings the issues up to date. Each programme will be performed on alternate evenings alongside verbatim monologues, edited by novelist and playwright Gillian Slovo, from interviews with politicians including Clare Short, Ann Widdecombe, Shirley Williams and London mayoral hopeful Oona King. "The interviews create a real backbone to the plays," Rubasingham says.

"When we've read through them, some of the actors have said: 'Really? Did that happen?'" Claire Cox, Niamh Cusack and Stella Gonet lead the 12-strong ensemble and the season begins with Rebecca Lenkiewicz's The Lioness, about how Queen Elizabeth I, self-proclaimed wife and mother of England, managed power and pressure. Later, Elizabeth II features in Moira Buffini's play, Handbagged, which takes us back to the Eighties and Margaret Thatcher's prickly relationship with the monarch. …