Monstrous Regiment Theatre Company

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Monstrous Regiment Theatre Company was established in 1975, and went on to produce and perform 30 major shows, in which the main focus was on women's lives and experiences.[1] Performer-led and collectively organised, its work figures prominently in studies of feminist theatre in Britain during the 1970s and 1980s (Aston 1995; Case 1988; Goodman 1993; Itzin 1980; Reinelt 1993; Wandor 1986). No productions have been mounted since 1993, when financial support from the Arts Council of Great Britain was discontinued (Goodman and de Gay 1997; Higgs and Dexter 2013).

The name adopted by the company refers ironically to the title of John Knox's sixteenth century pamphlet, ‘The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women’. Reacting to what they saw as the marginal status and stereotypical depiction of women in both conventional and political theatre of the time (Wandor 1993, ch. 3; Hanna ed. 1991, p.xvii), its founding members decided to create a radical alternative that would provide serious opportunities for women as actors, writers, directors, designers and technicians.[2] Men were not excluded from the company, but women were to predominate both on-stage and off-stage (Hanna ed. 1991, p.xxix; Goodman and de Gay 1997, pp. 33–35).

With a commitment to promoting new writing, and to close collaboration with the writers it commissioned, Monstrous Regiment explored a variety of theatrical forms in its work, including epic theatre, cabaret, and performance art, and its productions ranged from large-scale ensemble pieces to one-woman shows (Reinelt 1993). Specially written live music was integral to many of them (Wandor 1986, p. 60). Despite its feminist (and socialist) political impetus, its work was essentially theatrical, rather than issue-based or agitprop in character (Reinelt 1993; Wandor 1986, ch.4).

Along with other feminist companies such as the Women's Theatre Group (Aston 1995, ch.5; Goodman 1993, ch. 3), Monstrous Regiment contributed to the broader development of alternative theatre that emerged in Britain in the post-1968 period, with a proliferation of new touring companies performing to new audiences (Itzin 1980; Wandor 1993, ch.1). The ongoing Unfinished Histories project [1] provides a rich source of information about these companies, including Monstrous Regiment. Together with the texts of four plays, an account of the company's development is presented in the editorial introduction to Monstrous Regiment: A Collective Celebration (Hanna ed. 1991), to which many of its members contributed.

The company's archives (including records of meetings, production photographs, posters and flyers, design sketches, and annotated scripts) are lodged with the Theatre and Performance Archives at the Victoria and Albert Museum; a complete online catalogue is now available.</ref> They had previously been located in The Women's Library at the London School of Economics.<ref> An official Monstrous Regiment website using this archive material to document and illustrate the history and achievements of the company was launched early in 2019.

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  1. ^ On the creation of the company, see Hanna ed. 1991, pp.xiv-xxxi. For detailed information on its productions (including performers, writers, directors etc), and published plays, see Higgs and Dexter 2013.
  2. ^ Amongst the founding members were three who were to remain actively involved throughout its history: Chris Bowler (until her death in May 2014), Gillian Hanna, and Mary McCusker; on their central role see Goodman 1993, pp. 69-70; Reinelt 1993, pp. 162-168. Along with Katrina Duncan, they have constituted the directorial board of the (still extant) company since the early 1990s (Higgs and Dexter 2013).


  • Aston, Elaine (1995) An Introduction to Feminism and Theatre, London: Routledge
  • Case, Sue-Ellen (1988) Feminism and Theatre, New York: Methuen
  • Goodman, Lizbeth (1993) Contemporary Feminist Theatres: To Each Her Own, London: Routledge
  • Goodman, Lizbeth and de Gay, Jane (1997) 'Interview with Gillian Hanna', in Goodman, Lizbeth and de Gay, Jane, Feminist Stages: Interviews with Women in Contemporary British Theatre, London: Routledge, pp. 32–39
  • Hanna, Gillian et al., ed. (1991) Monstrous Regiment: A Collective Celebration, London: Nick Hern Books
  • Higgs, Jessica and Dexter, Kim (2013) 'Monstrous Regiment', in Unfinished Histories: Recording the History of Alternative Theatre, 1968-1988:
  • Itzin, Catherine (1980) Stages in the Revolution: Political Theatre in Britain since 1968, London: Methuen
  • Reinelt, Janelle (1993) 'Resisting Thatcherism: The Monstrous Regiment and the School of Hard Knox', in Hart, Lynda and Phelan, Peggy, eds, Acting Out: Feminist Performances, University of Michigan Press
  • Unfinished Histories: Recording the History of Alternative Theatre, 1968-1988: (accessed July 2014)
  • Wandor, Michelene (1986) Carry On, Understudies, 2nd edn, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul
  • Wandor, Michelene (1993) Drama Today: A Critical Guide to British Drama 1970-1990, London: Longman

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