Shakespeare's theater gets a woman

After 400 years, the Globe mounts a female playwright's production

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published February 18, 2010 1:19PM (EST)

It only took 400 years. London's Globe Theater has commissioned its first play by a woman. This September, Shakespeare's own theater will mount the world premiere of "Bedlam," a musical drama set at another of London's most famous institutions: the infamous psychiatric asylum. 

In fairness, it's not as if the theater where women once couldn't even appear on the stage has spent the past four centuries actively ignoring female playwrights. The Globe was shut down from 1642 to 1997 (a hiatus that puts our current "Glee" anticipation into perspective). Nevertheless, the fact that it's taken them a whole 13 years since re-opening to find one female writer to produce isn't exactly encouraging.

Playwright Nell Leyshon is, however, an inspiration. A 48-year-old working mother, she completed her first play at age 40. With her second, she won the Evening Standard award for most promising playwright. And though she's eager to get cracking on "Bedlam," she's currently embroiled in a different project for the National Theater: working with teenagers on a play about body image. By 48, William Shakespeare had his greatest works behind him and already retired. She may not be the Bard, but Nell Leyshon appears to be just getting warmed up.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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