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‘Tear it down and start again’: playwright Elinor Cook on sexism in British theatre

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Her sharp and funny plays have feted female friendship. As Elinor Cook takes Ibsen to the Caribbean with her version of The Lady from the Sea, she talks about fighting against the industry’s inequality

Elinor Cook remembers when she first wanted to be a playwright. It was 2005 and she was doing a postgraduate degree at drama school, watching friends troop in and out of auditions. “The men were going up for these exciting parts,” she says, “and the women were grateful that they were being chucked Third Wench.”

Many actors would have sighed and buckled down, hoping that Third Wench would eventually – somehow – metamorphose into something more meaningful. But Cook began to write instead: at first cautiously, then with more confidence. The following year, she won a place on the Royal Court young writers’ programme; soon she was working on her first full-length script. It took a few years for one of her plays to be professionally staged but she was sure she had found her path. “I felt a hunger,” she explains. “I needed to do it.”

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