Character Ladies

Company name: Character Ladies

FounderKate Crutchley. Associate members: Susan (aka Clarke) Hayes, Donna (aka Dee) Berwick

Established: 1986

Reason: Kate Crutchley decided to establish a company of her own, to distinguish her work from the plethora of companies and productions that were using Oval House as their principal performance platform – thanks to her. She wanted to pursue her own projects, such as the story of the Ladies of Llangollen, and commission plays on subjects that she was particularly interested in. She thought it time that her work and her aspirations took on a distinct ‘character’, so to speak; also she considered herself in some ways a ‘character actress’ – hence Character Ladies was born.

Current status: Disbanded 1991

Area of work: Lesbian

Policy: The policy was to produce/commission/perform plays that were either historical – The Ladies (Sandra Freeman), Sappho & Aphrodite (Karen Malpede) – or contemporary pieces that took for granted their subject matter, i.e. lesbian life. Not ‘issue’ plays, but rather work based firmly on the reality of lesbian lives, relationships and experience, such as Supporting Roles (Sandra Freeman), Jigsaws (Jennifer Rogers), Echo (Susan Hayes). Also, Kate being Kate, plays that were just plain fun! – Death on Lesbos (Penny Gulliver), The Sisters Mysteries (Penny Gulliver), etc. Kate knew that lesbians, like everyone else, wanted to be entertained, and although not every piece was a success, she certainly aspired to the ethos of theatre as entertainment. Kate was a very political person, and fully committed to lesbian emancipation and empowerment – it was her legacy to the generation she inspired – but she sure wanted to have fun too, and very much took the view that our hard-earned equality should be rewarded with pleasure.

Structure: Artistic Director, Kate Crutchley

Based: Oval House

Funding: Arts Council, Greater London Arts (GLA), Lambeth Arts Council

Performance venues: Oval House


Company work and process:
Kate Crutchley oversaw the work and trajectory of the company, and was usually, but not always, director. The work process itself, however, was fairly egalitarian and cooperative, everyone pitching in where their strengths lay.

Personal appraisals:
Clarke Hayes: ‘Kate Crutchley was one of the most ‘artistic’ people I ever met – always looking for truth, and beauty – something very close to her heart. She invariably knew precisely what she wanted a play to ‘look’ like, and she went about constructing that image almost like a painting, adding all the various elements and layers until the whole thing was finished to her very high standard, and brought beauty, wherever possible, to life.’


Production NameVenuesDates
Supporting Roles
Writer: Sandra Freeman
Director: Kate Crutchley
Cast: Ruth Burton, Susan Hayes, Kate Crutchley, Rita Davies, Patricia Garwood, Sarah McNair
Set and lighting: Marian Staal
Costumes and Setting: Dee Berwick
Oval House
Sappho and Aphrodite
Writer: Karen Malpede
Director: Kate Crutchley
Cast included: Hazel Carey, Illona Linthwaite, Hisae Matsuda, Stephanie Pugsley, Adele Saleem
Set and costumes: Tessa Schneideman
Assistant: Jan Blake
Movement: Tessa Schneideman
Lighting: Steve Whitson
Music: Joanne Fraser
Oval House1987
Ladies of the Vale
Writer: Sandra Freeman
Director: Tessa Schneideman
Cast: Fraser Caines, Kate Corkery, Kate Crutchley, Mandy More
Designer: Angie Dove
Lighting: Crin Claxton
Set: Steve Teagle
Soundtrack: About Time Prod
Poster design: Carole Murcia
Oval House1988
Death in Lesbos
Writer: Penny Gulliver
Director: Kate Crutchley
Cast: Dee Berwick, Penny Gulliver, Susan Hayes, Nick Herrett, Jinny Keatinge, Kaya McGregor, Keith Matthews, Richard Taylor
Lighting: Crin Claxton
Oval House1989
The Sisters Mysteries
Writer: Penny Gulliver
Director: Kate Crutchley
Music and lyrics: Mandy More
Cast: Cindy Afflick, Dee Berwick, Kate Crutchley, Bronwyn Geddes, Susan Hayes, Jinny Keatinge, Katie McGoldrick, Mandy More, Colin Scott-Moncrieff
Musical Director: Mandy More
Lighting: Crin Claxton
Costumes: Mattea Goldstein
Props: Alison Craig
Oval House
Writer: Susan Hayes
Director: Kate Crutchley
Cast: Claire Campbell, Stella Duffy, Susan Hayes, Georgina Lock
Designer: Ellie Hillman
Lighting: Samantha McNairn
Oval House
Writer: Jennifer Rogers
Director: Kate Crutchley
Cast: Lyn Ashley, Stella Duffy, Katy Feeney, Anne Harries, Claire Hawksley
Lighting: Crin Claxton
Set design: Ellie Hillman
Oval House
The Ladies
Writer: Sandra Freeman
Director: Kate Crutchley
Music: Carol Sloman
Cast: Margaret Dent, Stella Duffy, Juliet Howland, Dawn Hudson, Elizabeth Littlewood, Sandy Maberley, Imogen Ryall
Musical direction: Lisa Nolan
Design: Ellie Hillman
Lighting: Crin Claxton
Oval House1991

Interviewee reference: Kate Crutchley

Existing archive material: With founder members of the company and Unfinished Histories

Jigsaws by Jennifer Rogers (Dramatic Publishing Company 1988)
Supporting Roles by Sandra Freeman in Lesbian Plays: Two (Methuen 1989)

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Clarke Hayes for writing the copy on this page, and also to Claire Oberman. Page constructed by Jessica Higgs. November 2013

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