More than a century since /The First Actress/ debuted on the London stage, this innovative play still raises questions about the role of women in today's society. /The First Actress/ was initially directed by Edith Craig (1869-1947), daughter of revered actress Ellen Terry (1847-1928), as part of the Pioneer Players' inaugural London season in 1911. This forward-looking work, written by Christopher St. John (Christabel Marshall, 1871-1960), compounded the argument for women's suffrage with the history of women on the stage.
Set on the stage of Drury Lane in 1661, the play opens at the curtain call of a production of /Othello/ with Margaret Hughes, possibly the first woman to play Desdemona following Charles II’s edict requiring women to play all female roles instead of boys (standard practice in England prior to the Restoration). Hughes, feeling defeated by her performance, falls fitfully asleep backstage, and the actresses of her future, including Nell Gwyn (1650 - 1687) played by Ellen Terry in the original 1911 production, counter her self-defeat with examples of their own successes.
Credit Photo : © Linsi McCall