Sphinx, alongside other members of the December Group, has written an Open Letter to Oliver Dowden. Find out more here.

Dear Oliver Dowden,

Over the last 2 months, we have been looking at the question of how to rebuild the arts post-coronavirus, from the perspective of women’s equality. Our concern is that gender inequality will increase in straitened, risk-averse conditions.

Our research shows that one reason less work by women is programmed is that women are sometimes viewed (incorrectly) as more of a box-office risk. This aligns with evidence in Sphinx Theatre’s year-long research project on Women in Theatre, conducted with Jennifer Tuckett at the University of Cambridge last year, including quotes from NPO Artistic Directors:

“There isn’t enough money to make exciting commissions happen and there is pressure on the bottom line to deliver sure fire winners, which often means extant texts, which often means male written.”

“I would say that managing risk is a challenge for every theatre. There are things that I know in the wider sphere wouldn’t be a risk, but here they would be. And that often is to do with contemporary new work that’s not necessarily of a known quality”.

“The challenge is we need a play that’s recognizable, that we can get an audience in with…. and the repertoire’s dominated by men. So it’s how you change that.”

We will be sending you the Report of our recent research, and from the major Women in Theatre Forum (partners including The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, Equity, ERA 50:50, University Women in the Arts, Sphinx Theatre, Black Womxn in Theatre, Stage Directors UK).

We are writing to flag up this issue now, however, as we notice that your taskforce has only 3 women out of the 9 task force members (33%). Our research from Australia has shown that a gender-equal team is more likely to consider all genders’ needs.

We also notice that 0% of the leadership is female, as both yourself, as Chair of the taskforce, and the newly appointed Commissioner for Cultural Recovery and Renewal are male.

For all these reasons, we ask that you use a ‘gender lens’ to make and review all your decisions.

We will be sending you our Report within the next few weeks. We ask you and your taskforce to reflect, and act, on its findings, as you consider how best to rebuild the arts post-coronavirus.

We hope you will let us know what measures will be put in place to ensure gender equality.

Best wishes,


Maureen Beattie OBE, President of Equity

Sue Parrish, Artistic Director, Sphinx Theatre

Polly Kemp, Co-founder, ERA 50: 50

Brigid Larmour, Artistic Director, Watford Palace Theatre

Jennifer Tuckett, Director, University Women in the Arts

Dr Julia Pascal, writer, director, academic and the first female director at the National Theatre at the South Bank

Chloe Todd Fordham, playwright, dramaturg and the former Literary Manager at Graeae Theatre Company


On behalf of The December Group

Latest News

The Amplify Spring ideas submissions window is now open and will close at 10am on 2 April 2020. Nottingham Playhouse know that theatre is made in numerous ways and they’re interested in reading and hearing about exciting and dynamic ideas. For more information on submitting a script or an idea head to the Nottingham Playhouse website.

or make initial contact via email (amplify@nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk) or ring 0115 8736246.

If you’re stuck inside due to the current circumstances, looking for something to do AND cursing yourself for missing some of the most exciting fringe theatre from the last few years, then we have some good news for you!

LIVR is the world’s first virtual reality content platform dedicated to theatre, and they have a 1-month free trial available on their website. Watch brilliant women-led theatre such as: Ladykiller (The Thelmas); White (Koko Brown); Woke (Apphia Campbell) and Little Miss Burden (Matilda Ibini) from the comfort (and safety!) of your own home. Check it out: livr.co.uk

We had an incredible time at our What Share of the Cake? Forum, presented in association with University Women in the Arts and the December Group, a new group of women artists and practitioners working in theatre. It was astonishing to hear all of the research in one place, and we are reinvigorated in our fight to establish gender equality in theatre with help from Arts Council England.

To take a look at our research head over to the Research Reports page, and watch this space for our new report on the outcomes of the forum.

Pick of the Week



This week, in light of the theatre closures as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic, we are picking three companies to celebrate:

New writing company Papatango have taken to twitter to let creatives in the theatre industry know what the company can offer them during this difficult time.



This week, in light of the theatre closures as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic, we are picking three companies to celebrate:

In their latest newsletter, Improbable have put together a list of mutual aid and peer support initiatives, including emergency hardship funds, aimed at artists, freelancers and workers affected by COVID-19.

Nick Hern Books

Nick Hern Books

This week, in light of the theatre closures as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic, we are picking three companies to celebrate:

Nick Hern Books are celebrating the plays “lost” to COVID-19. Using the hashtag #StillonthePage they are offering 30% off the plays that have been forced to close as a way for audiences to still support writers. Use the code STILLON30 on their website.

In the Press

Alex Critoph: It’s time to let women tell their own stories in theatre

The Stage, 3rd March 2020

Arts Council England accused of barely mentioning women in its 10 year Strategy

The Stage, 7th February 2020

Sexism and gender divide ingrained in UK theatre

The Guardian, 27th Jan 2020

Time to drop the cliche that women only write 'domestic' plays - Erica Whyman

The Stage, 26th September 2019

Timberblake wertenbaker and jude kelly join symposium exploring gender equality

The Stage, 12th December 2018

Female theatre leaders hail arts council meeting as a major step forward for gender parity campaign

The Stage, 7th December 2018

We're now confusing diversity and equality. Which is our priority?

The Guardian, 17th June 2018

Women are being excluded from the stage. It's time for quotas

The Guardian, 24th April 2018

Sphinx theatre's sue parrish: we must break down the barriers to gender parity

The Stage, 8th March 2018 for International Women's Day

Directors must deal with how older plays depict women

WhatsOnStage, 12th May 2017

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