Women in the theatre at Cambridge

Post by Emily Perdue

A recently catalogued item in Special Collections sheds some light on the role of women in Cambridge theatre. MS Additional 9610, given by composer Geoffrey Wright, consists of three photo albums documenting many of the stage productions that Wright participated in, primarily from the 1920s and 1930s. Wright wrote music and helped design sets for Cambridge Footlights and the Marlowe Society at the University, as well as the ADC Theatre and Cambridge Arts Theatre. The pictures and the history behind the photo album demonstrate the progress of, and backlash against, women on the stage.

Frances ‘Fanny’ Rowe MS Add.9610

In 1932 the first stage production by Footlights to include women was badly received. A year later, Wright assisted in the production of “No More Women!” as a response in which all of the female roles were once again performed by men. Though Wright participated in this production, he continued to work with women in other theatre groups. He designed costumes for the first Marlowe Society production to feature women and included those portraits in his albums. Frances “Fanny” Rowe was cast in the lead role as Cleopatra in Anthony and Cleopatra in 1934. Rowe herself later performed on West End and in television, playing roles in Vanity Fair, The Forsyte Saga, and Fresh Fields.

University Archives FOOT 3/1/7 – Cambridge Daily News “No More Women” 1933. The caption reads ‘The opening scene in the Footlight’s Revue…in which the male members of the cast are welcoming back the traditional Footlights “women.”‘

Learn more about the advancement of women’s rights and opportunities at the Rising Tide exhibition (https://www.cam.ac.uk/TheRisingTide) at the University Library, open until March 2020.

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