It’s the 1960s, the world is changing. Protesters take the streets, hippies celebrate free love and The Beatles are rising to fame… Except not in Switzerland, where women still don’t have the vote (and would not get it until 1971) and are legally confined to kitchen and household. Bette, the star of a regional TV cooking show, and Trudy, a housewife, are about to change that.
Good Women Arts is comprised of co-creators Faith McCune, Lena Liedl, and Sophie Marsden, who are looking to bring women’s voices to the stage. Their show The Good Women has already taken to the stage in Belfast and at VAULT Festival and is now headed to Bradford Playhouse in April and London’s The Cockpit in June. We sat down with Faith and Lena for a pixelated pint to get behind the curtain, and find out more about pioneering women-led queer theatre.
Jake: Hi Lena and Faith! Your show, The Good Women, took centre-stage at VAULT Festival last year – tell us what you’ve been up to since then.
L & F: It’s been quite a year! After VAULT we transferred to Greenwich Theatre and we are now touring the show throughout the UK and Ireland – we just finished our shows in Dublin last week. We also developed our show further since VAULT: We rewrote and extended it – and we added some fun multimedia elements. As one of our main characters is the star of a TV show, we always wanted to work with video projections.
Jake: The Good Women follows two Swiss housewives in the 1960s – tell us about the characters and why you chose this time period particularly.
L & F: We started writing this play in 2020. We were inspired by an article in a Swiss newspaper about a cooking teacher and her partner, who fought for women’s votes in the 1960s. We started researching the background of the two women and discovered they had a fascinating life story. We also wanted to talk about a chapter of women’s history not many people in the UK are aware of: Swiss women did not get the right to vote on national level until 1971. In some areas of Switzerland women were still banned from voting in regional elections up until 1990, which makes Switzerland the last European country to introduce women’s suffrage.
Our two main characters are Bette and Trudy. Bette is the star of a regional TV cooking show, she is a workaholic, she is very down to earth and tries to take care of the people around her. Trudy is a housewife in an unhappy marriage – and quite the opposite of Bette. She is a dreamer, flirtatious and outgoing, she loves a good cocktail. Their contrasting personalities bring a great dynamic into their relationship.
Jake: You describe the piece as ‘romantic’ and it also deals with battles with addiction, abuse, and political repression. Tell us about working with those themes and what the audience can expect.
L & F: We spent two years researching the political and cultural backdrop of the play. We cooked 1960s recipes, we looked at adverts, TV shows, music that these women would have listened to, testimonies of women who lived at the time, queer magazines in Swiss newspaper archives, statistics on addiction rates, the history of contraception and abortion in Switzerland, we also incorporate German, Italian and French into the play to ensure our story is authentic and does the community and the time period we portray justice – but ultimately the most important thing is the relationship between the two characters, their personalities, their lives and their love.
We never wanted our play to be a dry history lecture; we want the audience to fall in love with Bette and Trudy the way we did. The political side is bubbling underneath and defines the circumstances in which their story happens, but the focus is always on the two women. So, it’s funny, it’s very colourful – our wonderful set and costume designer Chloé Rochefort made the stage look like a doll house in technicolour – and it’s got everything a good romcom needs.
Jake: You’ve already taken the piece to Belfast and it will shortly be heading to Bradford – tell us what’s special about those locations to you both.
L & F: Faith was born and grew up in Belfast and our director Sophie’s family comes from Bradford. We did the play in London last year – and we are coming back to London in June – but we also wanted to bring the show to places where there isn’t that much queer new writing and audiences might not have access to this kind of show. In Belfast, we performed in an old church, which was a great experience, it brought a different atmosphere to the show – and we completely sold out! So, there is clearly a demand for shows like ours in places that don’t have a big fringe theatre scene.
Jake: Given the themes of Binge Fringe, if your show was a beverage of any kind (alcoholic, non-alcoholic – be as creative as you like!), what would it be and why?
L & F: Whiskey on the rocks: It’s Trudy’s favourite, smooth but packs a punch like our play – and on the rocks because of the rough terrain of man’s land our good women need to navigate.