Play reflects on the modern woman

Last updated 05:00 22/11/2013
Beth Allen
CLASS ACT: Beth Allen is part of the all-female cast, crew and creative team behind the New Zealand production of Between the Sheets.

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Shortland Street favourite Beth Allen is swapping a hospital for a classroom this month starring in and co-producing the psychological drama Between the Sheets at The Basement theatre. She spoke to reporter Jess Lee about feminism and gender bias in the world of New Zealand show business.

1. Describe Between the Sheets in 140 characters or less.

A parent-teacher interview that veers well away from the child under discussion.

2. What drew you to the play?

The taut writing, the simplicity of the staging, the fact that my character is different from the one I play on Shortland Street and the chance to work with Jennifer Ward-Lealand [actress and co-producer] and Sophie Roberts [director].

3. The play is brought together by an entirely female cast, crew and creative team - was this a conscious decision?

A very conscious decision. Partly because it was fitting due to the female-oriented themes of the play and partly in response to an article by Janet McAllister in a newspaper late in 2012 highlighting the lack of plays written and directed by women being staged in Auckland.

4. What do you think of Sweden's new movie rating system to highlight gender bias? [To get an "A" rating, a movie must have at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man.]

Ha! That is brilliant. Can we get it here?

5. How do you think New Zealand would stack up across the theatre, television and film scenes?

Television seems to be more even-keeled in terms of gender bias. We don't produce enough theatre by women but generally theatre tends to give women roles that have more scope to them than "girlfriend" or "mother".

With regard to films, I saw White Lies [based on the Witi Ihimaera novel Medicine Woman] this year and was cheered to see a film with a cast of women, two of whom were over 30, with about four lines of dialogue in the whole movie revolving around a man. That's got to be progress.

6. Do you consider yourself a feminist? What do you think of it as a label?

Yes. I think in New Zealand the label has a negative connotation to it - there's a bit of an "oh, don't make a fuss" attitude here.

But in recent weeks, with the revelations of the Roast Busters and several high-profile men's attitudes toward the young women involved, as well as the difficulty in prosecuting sexual assault, I feel that we have to remain vigilant.

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We need to preserve all the gains that were made for us by brave women in times past by continuing to demand safety and equality.

There are still plenty of countries where women have it much worse than we do here and in this country we still have to teach our younger women to safely navigate their way through a culture influenced by a highly sexualised online environment.

7. Have you experienced gender bias during your career?

Unless you're the lead role, actresses are usually paid less than the actors playing similar-sized roles.

8. What do you think Between the Sheets says about modern femininity?

That it's complicated!

That it's impossible for women to please everyone but that in many ways we are expected to.

That we judge each other too harshly and that this is holding us back from supporting each other.

9. How do you think audiences will relate to both characters?

The piece is cleverly written to keep you guessing about both characters - your moral compass will swing all over the place.

10. What are you hoping audiences will take from it?

That you can't easily judge people for their choices.

Especially when the choices are difficult. Between the Sheets runs until November 30 at The Basement theatre. Go to iticket.co.nz for tickets.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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