Monstrous Regiment

Company name: Monstrous Regiment

Established: 1975

Founders: Chris Bowler, Linda Broughton, Helen Glavin, Gillian Hanna, Mary McCusker

Reason: ‘…because they were unhappy with the dearth of parts for women and, in particular, challenging parts. They wanted to be able to control their own work and shape new roles on and off stage for women theatre workers.’ (British Alternative Theatre Directory, 1982)

Current status: Dormant since 1993

Area of Work: Women’s, New Writing

Policy: ‘Our principal reason for coming together is a dissatisfaction with the opportunities offered women working in theatre; and to perform material specifically geared to a company that will never contain more men than women. Policy making and practical tasks are shared by all.’ (Publicity, 1976)

Structure: Collective; collective management (from 1983); Artistic Director-led collective (from 1991).

Based: London

Funding: Arts Council of Great Britain revenue funding

Performance Venues: All of UK and abroad, small and middle-scale touring, theatres, arts centres.

Audiences: Wide-ranging with strong women-based following

For Scum design images see Andrea Montag‘s interviewee page.
For more company images see Lily Susan Todd‘s interviewee page

Company and work process:
Taking their name from a sixteenth century pamphlet by John Knox entitled The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, Monstrous Regiment (or Monsters as they became fondly known) was brought into being one soggy afternoon in August 1975 (retold by Gillian Hanna in The Afternoon of the Storm).

Belt & Braces, with whom Gillian Hanna was working at the time, were auditioning for a very small woman’s role. (As was usual for Belt & Braces and other companies of the period, there was little casting on offer for women, and what was on offer was stereotypical.) Shocked by the number of experienced and motivated women who came to be auditioned for this meagre job, she afterwards invited them all to a meeting to discuss the possibility of forming a music theatre company. All shared the same exasperations as to the type and amount of work available to them – and a desire to do something about it. Mary McCusker: ‘If I have to play another tart with a heart of gold in a PVC skirt, I’m going to throw up’. Not all stayed, but from this meeting emerged the core group who became the Monstrous Regiment.

It was agreed they would be a collective, which sat naturally with their political beliefs and suited the running of a women’s company. Many of the group had previously been in ‘failed’ collectives and wanted the challenge of ‘getting it right’. A challenge they worked with, debated and returned to time and again to try and maintain (John Slade). Their commitments were feminist and socialist. Funding applications made to the Arts Council of Great Britain and Gulbenkian Foundation in January 1976, give a vivid picture of their policy, structure and aims (Application highlights). Success with these allowed them to proceed with their first production, Scum: Death Destruction and Dirty Washing written by Chris Bond, Claire Luckham and the company (Process and development of Scum). For many, Scum was an unforgettable and formative experience. When they received revenue funding the following year they were able to set up a structure of employment that paid thirteen wages for 52 weeks a year at slightly above the Equity minimum. This was important to them as professional Equity members.

A number of shows followed in quick succession employing a similar development pattern: Vinegar Tom by Caryl Churchill (1976), about 17th century witchcraft and fear and loathing of female sexuality; Kiss and Kill by Ann Mitchell and Susan Todd (1977), on violence against women; Floorshow with material from David Bradford, Caryl Churchill, Bryony Lavery and Michelene Wandor (1977), a musical cabaret on women and work; Time Gentlemen Please by Bryony Lavery (1978), another cabaret this time on sexuality, which famously led to the show being stopped (the plugs were literally pulled) in Leeds by some incensed punters who missed the irony at play (Letter of support from Beatrix Campbell); and Teendreams by David Edgar and Susan Todd (1979), about a feminist teacher’s relationship with the women’s movement.

During the 1980s, the company’s work and management was continually evolving due to changing personnel and the political climate. The early ’80s saw a season of extant foreign plays: Shakespeare’s Sister, written and originally performed by Theatre de L’Aquarium, Paris (1980); Dialogue Between a Prostitute and One of her Clients by Italian Dacia Maraini (1980); and Mourning Pictures by American Honor Moore (1981). As with nearly all their foreign language plays, Gillian Hanna did the translations. Each play stretched them in a different direction – visually in Shakespeare’s Sister through its series of images and fragmented text, poetically through the verse form of Mourning Pictures, and looking at the performer’s relationship with the audience in Dialogue where, throughout the play, the Prostitute would come out of a scene and directly debate issues around sex with the audience. Penny Cherns and Paula Dionisotti worked with them to create The Fourth Wall (1983), an evening of one act plays by Franca Rame and Dario Fo. There was some exciting, experimental use of music from Maggie Nichols, who sang unaccompanied in counterpoint to the text being delivered by Paula Dionisotti – improvising nightly. During  this period there were further commissions from Bryony Lavery on Calamity (1983) and on Origin of the Species (1984), their first co-production with a mainstream venue – Birmingham Rep.

The original members had reduced to Chris Bowler, Gillian Hanna and Mary McCusker. Financially now there was only money for one full-time post, that of Administrator; everyone else began to be paid per production, and other duties were done unpaid. It was agreed they would become a collective management. Other things were changing too. The company was evolving into a women-directed group (there had always been men in the company in the early years), which they found gave them a new freedom to investigate work in a way that wasn’t always possible with men present. The company worked hard to select shows that reflected the shifting times concerning the women’s movement but weren’t always certain as to what they thought they should be saying. Simply supporting women writers and artists became an important action in itself. An interest for them at this time concerned ageing and the lack of opportunities for actresses over the age of 40, and they began looking for plays with older women’s castings and subjects. This focus is seen in the choice of My Song is Free by Jorge Diaz (1986) about women in detention in Pinochet’s Chile and Island Life by Jenny McLeod (1988) set in the wilderness of an old people’s home.

By 1990, they realised the collective management wasn’t working and appointed an Advisory Board to assist them. When the Arts Council insisted that their funding support was dependent on them appointing an Executive or Artistic Director with whom they could negotiate (dealing with Collectives never sat easily with the Arts Council), Mary McCusker stepped forward as interim Executive Director and in April 1991, Clare Venables was appointed Artistic Director. The company continued working for another two years before going into hibernation.
For a list of those people who worked with the company up to 1991 click here.

Personal appraisal and thoughts:
See Andrea Montag‘s interviewee page for her audio extract on designing Scum.

Lily Susan Todd: ‘…we [women] needed to find out what we had to say, and Monstrous was going to be about that, which was very exciting. It was going to be about, what the hell was it we had to say that was unique, or that needed to be said…we wanted to be exploratory, we wanted to explore form, theme and a female territory and what that would be composed of.  We had those discussions in a very piecemeal way. It was not highly theorised.’

Chris Bowler: ‘The heatwave of summer 1976 peaked during our week of one-night stands for Southern Arts. One week I had booked included a performance at the West End Centre in Aldershot. We were very aware of being in a town dominated by the military – after all we were a regiment too. I was half expecting to be taken away and shot as a dirty feminist. The patriarchal machinery was all around us but we weren’t afraid. It was blistering hot but we had women’s work to do, getting the Scum set (wooden flooring pallets and half-barrel washing tubs and a cast iron stove) out of the van and into the theatre. We decided that swimwear was the order of the day, and of course our personalised carpenters’ aprons and gardening gloves (the pallets were full of splinters). Yes, we were feminists, but we had bodies, and we didn’t care who knew it. The W.E.C. didn’t know what to do for the best. Should they comment, or stay mum and pretend that all their companies did get-ins in bikinis? Discretion won the day – or was it fear? Did they think we’d turn on them with our spanners and ratchet screwdrivers? After the show, one brave soul told me they’d expected us all to turn up in boiler suits and dungarees. So, victory to the Regiment. Another stereotype shattered.’ (Taken from Monstrous Regiment – A Collective Celebration by Gillian Hanna, with kind permission of Nick Hern Books, Chris Bowler, Gillian Hanna and Mary McCusker)

‘….a company of extraordinary high quality.’ Liverpool Post 1977
‘…it is a joy to see how Monstrous Regiment exploits surrealistic and expressionist techniques and give them a blazing theatrical life and function…’  The Guardian 1982
‘With their policy of commissioning new plays which have strong parts for women and always having more women in the company than men, Monstrous Regiment, since their inception in 1976, have combined artistic endeavour with political good sense.’ Time Out 1982
‘…a company of unqualified excellence.’ Tribune 1979
For reviews and details of productions between 1976-85 see here.


Scum: Death, Destruction and Dirty Laundry
Writers: Claire Luckham, Chris Bond and the company
Director: Lily Susan Todd
Performers: Chris Bowler, Helen Glavin, Gillian Hanna, Mary McCusker, Lily Susan Todd, Roger Allam, Alan Hulse
Designer: Andrea Montag
Music written by Helen Glavin
Posters/graphics: Chris Montag
Technician: D. Wilson
(In later productions: Linda Broughton, Ann Mitchell, Ian Blower and Clive Russell
Technician: Meri Jenkins
Musician: Josefina Cupido
One further version was redirected by Ann Mitchell)
April 1976 - April 1977
Vinegar Tom
Writer: Caryl Churchill
Director: Pam Brighton
Performers: Linda Broughton, Chris Bowler, Gillian Hanna, Mary McCusker, Lily Susan Todd, Roger Allam and Ian Blower
Musician / Performer: Josefina Cupido and Helen Glavin
Designer: Andrea Montag
Music: Helen Glavin
Lighting: Charlie ?
Technician: D. Wilson
September 1976 - April 1977
Writers: Caryl Churchill, Bryony Lavery, David Bradford and Michelene Wandor
Director: David Bradford
Performers: Chris Bowler, Gillian Hanna, Mary McCusker and Clive Russell
Musician / Performers: Josefina Cupido, Helen Glavin, Roger Allam
Designer: Stephanie Howard
Technician: Meri Jenkins
September 1977 - April 1978
Kiss and Kill
Writers: Lily Susan Todd and Ann Mitchell
Directors: Lily Susan Todd and Ann Mitchell (?)
Performers: Chris Bowler, Gillian Hanna, Mary McCuster, Helen Glavin / Lily Sue Todd, Roger Allam and Clive Russell
Musician / Performer: Josefina Cupido
Designer: Stephanie Howard
Music written by Josefina Cupido
Technician/ Lighting: Meri Jenkins
September 1977 - April 1978
Time Gentlemen Please
Writer: Bryony Lavery and company
Director: Lily Susan Todd
Performers: Chris Bowler, Mary McCusker and Clive Russell
Musician/ Performers: Diana Adderley, Richard Attree, Keith Morris
Designer: Stephanie Howard
Music written by Diane Adderley, Richard Attree and Keith Morris
Technician: Meri Jenkins
September - December 1978
Teen Dreams
Writer: David Edgar with Lily Susan Todd
Director: Kate Crutchley
Performers: Jenifer Armitage, Chris Bowler, Gillian Hanna, Mary McCusker, Lily Susan Todd, David Bradford and Clive Russell
Designer: Di Seymour
Technician / Lighting: Meri Jenkins
(on a later tour, Diane Adderley replaced Jenifer Armitage)
Tour included ICAJanuary - April 1979
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Writer: Bryony Lavery adapted from Anita Loos' 1925 novel: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: The Intimate Diary of a Professional Lady
Director: Lily Susan Todd
Performers: Chris Bowler, Gillian Hanna, Mary McCusker, Steven Ley and Iain Glass
Performer/Singer/ Musician: Josefina Cupido
Designer: Andrea Montag
Music written by Josefina Cupido
Lighting: Veronica Wood
Technician: Meri Jenkins
Second version
Director: Angela Hopkins
Performers: Gillian Hanna, Gay Harding, Mary McCusker, John Slade
Musician / Performers: Josefina Cupido and Paul Abrahams
Designer: Mary Moore
Lighting / Technicians: Meri Jenkins and Veronica Wood
In the three week run at the Half Moon Theatre in April 1980, Paul Abrahams was replaced by Tony Haynes and Chris Bowler replaced Mary McCusker for a short period)
Second version tour included Half Moon TheatreApril - July 1979 (first version)
Sept 1979 - April 1980 (second version)
Dialogue Between a Prostitute and One of Her Clients
Writer: Dacia Maraini translated by Gillian Hanna
Director: Ann Mitchell
Performers: Chris Bowler and John Slade
Music written by Josefina Cupido
Lighting / Technical: Mel Mortcliffe and Veronica Wood
September 1980 (first performance)
Shakespeare's Sister by Theatre de L'Aquarium
Translated by Gillian Hanna
Director: Hilary Westlake
Performers: Chris Bowler, Josefina Cupido, Gillian Hanna, Mary McCusker, David Bradford, John Slade and Hannah Beardon
Designer: Gemma Jackson
Lighting: Steve Whitson
Second version
Director: Jan Sargeant
Performers: Patricia Donovan, Gillian Hanna, Anne Haydn, Mary McCusker, Tony Guilfoyle and Steven Ley
Lighting Design: Veronica Wood
Third version
Performers: Citchie D'Arcy, Aviva Goldkorn, Ann Haydn, Mary McCusker, Tony Guilfoyle and Steven Ley
Technical: Mel Northcliffe
Stage Management: Janet Ball
ICA, Drill HallDecember 1980 (ICA), Second version: January - April 1982
Third version: August - September 1982
Mourning Pictures
Writer: Honor Moore
Director: Penny Cherns
Performers: Chris Bowler, Aviva Goldkorn, Gillian Hanna, David Bradford, Steven Ley and John Slade
Musicians: Tony Haynes and Josefina Cupido
Designer: Gemma Jackson
Technical: Sheryl Crown and Veronica Wood
Touring and broadcast as The Monday Play by BBC Radio 4 (with Mary McCusker also in the cast)January - April 1981 then 24 May 1982 (BBC broadcast)
The Yoga Class
Writer: Rose Tremain
Director: Caroline Eves
Performers: Diana Barrett, Chris Bowler, Norma Cohen, Joanna Field, Aviva Goldkorn and John Slade
Designer: Andrea Montag
Music: Helen Glavin
September - December 1981
The Execution
Writer: Melissa Murray
Director: Sue Dunderdale
Performers: Denise Armon, Chris Bowler, Jane Cox, Gillian Hanna, Mary McCusker, Richard Albrcht, Steven Ley and John Slade
Music: Veronica Wood
Technicians and Lighting: Mel Mortcliffe and Veronica Wood
April - May 1982
The Fourth Wall
Writers: Franca Rama and Dario Fo
Translated by Gillian Hanna
Director: Penny Cherns
Performer: Paola Dionisotti
Performer / Singer: Maggie Nichols
Designer: Hildegarde Bechtler
Lighting: Inigo Espejiel
February - April 1983
Writer: Bryony Lavery
Director: Nona Shepphard
Performers: Jane Cox, Gillian Hanna, Mary McCusker
Performer / Musician: Jane Cox
Designer: Andrea Montag
Lighting: Veronica Wood
Music: Jane Cox
Production Manager: Meri Jenkins
Admin: Sandy Bailey
September 1983 - May 1984
Enslaved by Dreams
Devised and directed by Chris Bowler (with original writings by Florence Nightingale)
Performers: Sally Cranfield (Blue), Tamsin Heatley (Grey), Celia Gore-Booth (Cream)
Design: Gemma Jackson
Lighting: Steve Whitson
Music: Helen Glavin
Costumes: Marion Wise
Choreography: Karen Rabinowitz
Technicians: Valerie Dew, Meri Jenkins and Deirdre Malynn
ICA February - April 1984 including 29 Feb-10 March 1984 (ICA)
Origin of the Species
(Co-production with Birmingham Repertory Theatre)
Writer: Bryony Lavery
Director: Nona Shepphard
Performers: Gillian Hanna and Mary McCusker
Designer: Jenny Carey
Stage Manager: Christine Thornhill
Asst Stage Manager: Linda ?
Birmingham Rep Studio 2, Drill Hall22 Nov 1984 (Birmingham Rep), 20 March-6 April 1985(Drill Hall)
Point of Convergence
Devised & directed by Chris Bowler
The Cockpit Theatre Summer Project in association with Monstrous Regiment.
(Performers included Mary Shand)
Cockpit Theatre5-21 Sept 1985 (Cockpit)
My Song is Free
(Presented by Monstrous Regiment by arrangement with Michael Redington)
Written by Jorge Diaz
(Translated by Paloma Zozaya; adapted by Nigel Gearing)
Directed by Lily Susan Todd
Performers: Angela Bruce, Stella Maris, Maureen Norris, Yolanda Vasquez
Designer: Iona McLeish
Lighting: Veronica Wood
Drill Hall 27 Feb-13 March 1986 (Drill Hall)
Writer: Susan Yankowitz
Director: Penny Cherns
Performers: Tim Gatting, Mary McCusker, Sue Rogerson, Gerda Stevenson
Designer: Iona McLeish
Lighting: Veronica Wood
Riverside Studios 1986? and Feb 1987 (Riverside)
My Sister in This House
Writer: Wendy Kesselman
Director: Nancy Meckler
Performers: Suzanna Hamilton, Maggie O'Neill, Maggie Steel, Tilly Vosburgh
Designer: Stephanie Howard
Lighting: Veronica Wood
Haymarket Studio, Leicester and Hampstead Theatre (Mayfest)1 April 1987 (Leicester), 27 May 1987 (Hampstead)
(Monstrous Regiment in association with Sheffield Crucible)
Writer: Carol Bunyan
Director: Angela Langfield
Performers: Vivienne Burgess, Pauline Jefferson, Pamela Lane, Jane Lowe
Designer: Claudia Mayer
Lighting: Geoff Mersereau
Sound: Trevor Dunford
Battersea Arts Centre 6-24 April 1988 (Battersea)
Island Life
(Co-production with Nottingham Playhouse)
Writer: Jenny McLeod
Director: Jane Collins
Performers: Joanna Field, Joan Hooley, Stella Tanner, Irma Innis.
(In Nottingham, Corinne Skinner Carter played Emmy and Marcia Tucker played Kate)
Designer: Iona McLeish
Lighting: Dee Kyne (in Nottingham, Veronica Wood)
Nottingham Playhouse Studio, Drill Hall - then tourOctober 1988 (Nottingham), 8-25 February 1989 (Drill Hall)
A Common Woman
(Co-production with Half Moon Theatre)
Three short plays by Dario Fo and Franca Rame, translated by Gillian Hanna:
Bless Me My Father For I Have Sinned; The Rape; Coming Home.
Director: Sharon Miller
Performers: Gillian Hanna
Designer: Andrea Montag
Lighting: Jon Listrum
Half Moon Theatre 7 February - 4 March 1989 (Half Moon)
Writer: Ian Brown
Director: Clare Venables
Performers: Mary McCusker
Designer: Annabel Lee
Lighting: George Tarbuck
Stage Manager: Liz Ainley
Traverse Theatre Edinburgh April 1989 (Traverse)
Love Story of the Century
Writer: Marta Tikkanen
Adapted [but not directed : cf UFH] by Clare Venables from a translation [of Tikkanen's book] by Stina Katchadourian
Performers: Gillian Hanna, Mary McCusker
Director: Debbie Shewell
Desinger: Moggie Douglas
Lighting: Tina MacHugh [UFH]
Music: Joanna MacGregor
Riverside Studio 21 Feb - 03 March 1990 (Riverside)
More Than One Antoinette
Written and directed by Debbie Shewell
Performers: Abigail Bond, William Gaminara, Marsha Miller, Geraldine Somerville, Natasha Williams
Designer: Geraldine Pilgrim
Lighting: Beth Hardisty
Music: Joanna MacGregor
Sound: Colin Brown
Young Vic Studio 27 March - 14 April 1990 (Young Vic)
Act 1 The Colony
(Salisbury Playhouse co-production)
Part I (The Colony) by Marivaux, trans/adapted Gillian Hanna; Part II (Comes a Cropper) by Robyn Archer
Director: Nona Shepphard
Performers: Angela Clerkin, Nora Connolly, Stephen Crane, Andrew Frame, Paul Kiernan, Carlene Reed, Lynne Verrall
Designer: Jenny Carey
Lighting: Peter Higton
Music: Lindsay Cooper
Battersea Arts Centre 7-25 Nov 1990 (Battersea)
Adapted by Clare Venables from the play by Euripedes
Director: Clare Venables
Performers: Ishia Bennison, Martin Gower, Sue Holland, Kathleen Michae, Richard Owens
Designer: Tim Reed
Lighting: Danielle Bisson
Lilian Baylis Theatre 1991? and 23 Jan-15 Feb 1992 (Lilian Baylis)
Bad Girl
Writer: Kay Trainor
Old Red Lion1991
The Love of an Independent Women 1991
Lady Grange1991
The New Man
Writer: Scott Talbot

Interviewee reference: Bryony Lavery, Andrea Montag, Lily Susan Todd, Michelene Wandor

Links: (The company’s archive is now part of the V&A Theatre Collections)

Vinegar Tom by Caryl Churchill (in Plays by Women Volume One, Methuen 1982)
Teendreams by David Edgar with Susan Todd (Teendreams & Our Own People, Methuen 1979)
Origin of the Species by Bryony Lavery (in Plays by Women Volume Six, Methuen)
Mourning Pictures by Honor Moore (in The New Women’s Theatre: Ten Plays by Contemporary American Women by Vintage 1977)
The Fourth Wall by Franca Rame and Dario Fo, translated by Gillian Hanna (A Woman Alone, Methuen 1991)
A Common Woman by Dario Fo and Franca Rame, translated by Gillian Hanna (Woman Alone, Methuen 1991)
Alarms by Susan Yankowitz (in Female Voices by the Playwrights Press)
Monstrous Regiment – A Collective Celebration by Gillian Hanna (Nick Hern Books 1991)

Monstrous Regiment are still a company, currently dormant. Their fourth and current director is Katrina Duncan.

Acknowledgements: This page was written and constructed by Jessica Higgs, assisted by Kim Dexter, with many thanks to Monstrous Regiment founder members: Chris Bowler, Gillian Hanna and Mary McCusker, and Nick Hern Books. November 2013

The creation of this page was supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund