News Story

We celebrated International Women's Day with a morning of talks, drop-ins and a clothes swap in the Foyer as part of our Fizz and Feminism events series. Helena Berry, our Heritage & Archive Manager, gave a talk on some of the inspiring women in CFT's history, from the internationally celebrated to the unsung heroines. Read about ten of those amazing women who have made remarkable contributions to CFT through the years...

Jocelyn Hebert

In 1964, Jocelyn Herbert was the first person to design both the set and the costumes for a show at CFT: Laurence Olivier's production of Othello. She was one of Britain's leading theatre designers with a gift for epic drama and celebrated the text at the heart of her stage designs. The Jocelyn Herbert Archive is held at the National Theatre.

Wendy Toye

Wendy Toye became the first woman to direct at CFT with a musical version of Peter Ustinov’s R loves J in 1973. She directed at CFT another seven times, including Follow the Star, a musical nativity starring Tony Robinson. Follow the Star was revived several times and is remembered as an all time favourite for many audience members.

Black and white photograph of Princess Grace of Monaco and Patrick Garland

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly, Princess of Grace of Monaco, was a close personal friend of Artistic Director Patrick Garland. She read poetry and prose on stage before greeting members of staff in the foyer on 16 March 1982, as part of a series of special events celebrating CFT's 21st season.

Sue Hyland

Local schoolteacher Sue Hyland started a pioneering movement at CFT in 1992. She and her husband introduced signed and described performances for D/deaf and blind or visually impaired theatregoers in CFT's 30th anniversary year, on a production of Coriolanus starring Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench. When her husband died in 1998, Sue inaugurated the John Hyland Award in his memory – an annual award for individual contribution to our award-winning Youth Theatre.

Black and white photograph of John and Sue Hyland
Black and white photograph of Ruth Mackenzie, Martin Duncan and Steven Pimlott. They all look at the camera, smiling.

Ruth Mackenzie CBE

The first female Artistic Director at CFT was not until 2003, when Ruth Mackenzie joined the team, alongside Steven Pimlott and Martin Duncan. Together, they programmed a daring Venice-themed season, flooding the stage with water for The Water Babies, The Merchant of Venice and The Gondoliers.

Kate Waters

In 2014, Kate Waters became the first female fight director at CFT. She has since returned to CFT to work on numerous productions, including Assassins and Rock Follies in Festival 2023. Kate is one of only two Equity registered fight directors in the UK.

Production photograph from Gypsy starring Imelda Staunton, who sits centre stage on a low wooden stool, wearing a brown dress with pink and orange spots, brown shoes and a necklace. She holds a bunch of papers in one hand and wanes out to the audience with the other. She looks up slightly to the left of the camera, with her mouth open singing or speaking passionately. In the background is a dressing room with brown suitcases, a clothes rail and a dressing table with a lit mirror and wooden chair.

Imelda Staunton

The most decorated actor to have performed at CFT was Imelda Staunton, who won UK Theatre, WhatsOnStage and Olivier Awards for her performance as Mrs Lovitt in Sweeny Todd (2011), and UK Theatre, Evening Standard, WhatsOnStage and Olivier Awards for her leading role in Sondheim’s Gypsy (2014).

Lashana Lynch

Lashana Lynch may now be known as the new 007 in the latest Bond film, but she began her career in theatre. Lashana starred in Educating Rita (2015) at CFT opposite Lenny Henry – the only time the roles have been played by black actors in a major stage production.

Production photograph of Lashana Lynch in Educating Rita. She sits at a wooden desk, wearing a purple short-sleeved blouse with her black curly hair tied up and big hoop earrings. She leans on one hand and holds a green pen in the other, looking out into the distance with a vacant expression. A man can be seen sitting at another desk in the background, out of focus, surrounded by wooden bookshelves full of books.
Production photograph of Sharon D Clarke in Caroline, or Change. She stands centre stage in front of a washing machine holding a washing basket full of clothes, wearing a white workwear dress, looking up to the right, singing. In the background is a blue and purple patterned set and bank notes raining down around the stage.

Sharon D. Clarke

Sharon D. Clarke starred in the title role in Caroline, or Change (2017). The production earned 5-star reviews and transferred to the West End and Broadway, where Sharon won an Olivier and Black British Theatre Award and was nominated for a Tony and a Grammy (the first ever Grammy nomination for a CFT production).

debbie tucker green

In 2018, debbie tucker green became the first female black playwright to have their work produced at CFT with a double bill of random and generations in the Minerva Theatre. random went on to become a BAFTA-winning Channel 4 drama featuring Daniel Kaluuya. She has been described as one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary Black British playwriting.

Today, our Chief Executive Kathy Bourne leads CFT alongside Creative Director Justin Audibert, with a 75% female Senior Leadership Team. Women are still under-represented across the theatre industry, especially in technical roles and creative leadership positions. In our Festival 2024 season, Redlands will become the first original play by a female writer to premiere in the Festival Theatre. We're proud to celebrate the women making history on and off stage here at CFT.