Kneehigh Theatre director Emma Rice

Chris Wilkinson, the Noises Off blogger has, on occasion, trudged half-heartedly into the ‘are women under-represented in the theatre?’ dispute. I say ‘half-heartedly’ because I don’t think there’s much scope for debate. Some of the most important and influential figures in the modern theatre industry are proud possessors of the X-chromosome, quietly and diligently shaping the cultural outlook of the UK, without being splashed in the tabloids for bad behaviour like some of their male counterparts (Sir Trevor Nunn, that means you).

And yes, despite the fact that Sir David Hare himself has drawn attention to the fact that modern theatre could be ignoring gifted female playwrights, women continue to shine in an industry renowned for its tough macho culture – and we need to make sure we support them. From writers to producers to actors, Running in Heels takes a look at the extraordinarily gifted need-to-know women in British theatre today.

The Directors

Emma Rice

As an artistic director at Kneehigh Theatre, one if the most innovative theatre companies around, Rice is a director in serious demand. Her latest venture, a stage version of Jacques Démy’s 1964 sugary musical film The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, is running at the Gielgud Theatre in London until early June.

Thea Sharrock

Sharrock became artistic director of London’s Southwark Playhouse in 2001 at just 24, and abandoned her degree at Oxford University to pursue theatre, and went on to direct the global sensation that was ‘Equus’. This year, she’s been simultaneously directing two extraordinarily demanding plays: Terence Rattigan’s ‘Cause Célèbre’ at the Old Vic and Noel Coward’s comedy ‘Blithe Spirit’ at the Apollo Theatre (add the fact that she’s a mother to two young boys and you’re left speechless). Oh, and she won an Olivier Award this year too – ‘Best Revival’ for ‘After the Dance’.

The Producers

Sally Greene

The owner and CEO of the Old Vic in London, Greene is the driving force behind persuading Kevin Spacey to take over as creative director, a move that has resulted in a steady stream of superb productions. Fabulously wealthy and fabulously savvy, she also produced the mega-successful global hit Billy Elliot: The Musical.

Judy Craymer

The brains behind ‘Mamma Mia!’, Craymer turned her dream of seeing Abba’s songs in a musical into a multi-million pound, all-singing, all-dancing reality, that she then immortalised on screen in 2008 with Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan. She’s of a true connoisseur of the theatre of unadulterated joy, and is now producing ‘Viva Forever’, a musical about the Spice Girls, with Simon Fuller: girl power in troughs.

Sonia Friedman

Since 1990, Friedman has produced over 100 shows. The co-founder of Out of Joint, one of the most influential theatre companies of the last 20 years, Friedman has a dizzyingly diverse CV that includes producing big-budget glossies like ‘Legally Blonde: The Musical’, and darker, smaller plays such as Samuel Beckett’s ‘Endgame’ and ‘Dancing at Lughnasa’.

The latest production from Sonia Friedman’s Out of Joint theatre company

The Greatest Dame of All

Rosemary Squire, OBE

Squire is regarded as the most powerful woman in the West End, and rightly so. She started out selling tickets, and is now the veritable Queen of British theatre, co-owning 39 West End and UK regional theatres. Squire combines sharp business acumen with brilliant creative verve, striking the near-impossible balance between avant-garde productions and crowd pleasers – and succeeding every time.

The Behind-the-Scenes Creatives

Miriam Buether

A theatre designer with a gift for bringing the seemingly impossible set-design to life, Buether is famed for a creative ability that knows no bounds. In 2006, when designing the set for My Child by Mark Bartlett, she created her riskiest and most critically acclaimed set yet: creating a huge tube carriage in which the audience stood with the actors. Recently, she was nominated for an Olivier for her work on ‘Earthquakes in London’.

Paule Constable

A three-time Olivier award winner, Constable is the best in the business, combining technical trickery with a rare intuition for knowing how to create the perfect atmosphere on stage through lighting – ‘the secret language of theatre’.

Maxine Doyle

As a Bonnie Bird award winner, the choreographer and one of the associate directors of the Punchdrunk theatre company, Doyle is at the heart of ‘immersive theatre’, a concept which treats productions as large art installations, and allows the audience to roam free throughout the performance. Her most recent work includes ‘The Children’s Hour’ and Shakira’s world tour.

Award-winning playwright Polly Stenham

The Playwrights

Polly Stenham

An ingénue in every sense of the word, Stenham’s first play, ‘That Face’, written when she was just 19, was hailed as one of the most extraordinary debuts of the past 20 years when it premiered in 2007. She won a string of high-profile awards, including the Critics’ Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright, and is currently working on another play, ‘No Quarter’. This year, she opened the Cob Studios and Gallery (named after her late father) in Camden.

Bola Agbaje

Like her contemporary Stenham, Agbaje is a very young woman with a seriously big gift. Her first play, ‘Gone Too Far!’ , premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in 2007, won the Olivier award for Outstanding Achievement with an Affiliated Theatre the same year, and she’s now writing the screenplay. In 2008, she was nominated for Evening Standard’s Charles Wintour Award For Most Promising Playwright, and is now under commission from Paines Plough and Tiata Fahodzi.

Lucy Prebble

Prebble wrote her first play, ‘Liquid’, whilst she was still at university. It garnered her a National Student Drama Festival award, and her career has leapt and bounded forward ever since. From the critically-acclaimed, multiple award winner ‘The Sugar Syndrome’ to the prophetic, hard-hitting sensation ‘Enron’, 28 year-old Prebble has proved herself to be a writer with serious gumption. She also wrote the script the highly successful TV show, ‘Secret Diary of a Call Girl’, and is under commission from both the National Theatre and The Royal Court Theatre.

The Actors

Bryony Hannah

It’s hard to outshine Keira Knightley, but someone’s gotta do it. Hannah’s outstanding turn as the scheming, malicious schoolgirl Mary in ‘The Children’s Hour’ had the critics up in arms. Until recently, Hannah was pulling pints in her local and slipping off to London to perform in fringe theatre whenever she could afford it. And ‘The Children’s Hour’ is in talks to transfer to Broadway, meaning Hannah’s star is set to rise and rise.

Jenny Jules

This year, Jules won the Critics’ Circle Theatre Award for Best Actress, thanks to her acclaimed performance as Mama Nudi in the Pulitzer prize-winning play ‘Ruined’, written by Lynn Nottage. She’s the first black actress in British theatre history to play the outrageously sexual Ruth in Harold Pinter’s ‘The Homecoming’, and is one of the most exciting and fearless female actors on the circuit. Jules credits her love of acting to the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, North London, where she started out as a youth member – and is now one of its most beloved and gifted leading ladies.

Sheridan Smith

Her long-running stint as Janet in ‘Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps’ might have led many to typecast Smith as a ‘tart with a heart’ kinda actress; oh, how very, very wrong. When she was 17, Smith starred in ‘Into the Woods’ at the Donmar Warehouse, and was tipped for stardom – and now, after starring for over a year in ‘Legally Blonde: The Musical’ and winning an Olivier award for ‘Best Actress in a Musical Theatre’, Smith has proved her credentials. She’s now in talks to star in ‘Bridget Jones: The Musical’ as the most beloved singleton of all. V.v.v.good, Miss Smith.

Sheridan Smith in the fabulously girly ‘Legally Blonde: The Musical’