Queen’s University Belfast | Supervisors Drs Shonagh Hill & Trish McTighe

This project examines female creative labour in the theatre industry in Northern Ireland and a tradition of women’s theatre-making since the 1990s.

Comprehensive overviews of women’s theatre-making in Northern Ireland are offered by Imelda Foley’s The Girls in the Big Picture: Gender in Contemporary Ulster Theatre (Belfast: The Blackstaff Press, 2003) and Fiona Coffey’s Women in Northern Irish Theatre, 192102012 (New York: Syracuse Press, 2016). In addition, Lisa Fitzpatrick’s scholarship is an important contribution to this field through it’s address of theatrical explorations of gender and violence in Northern Ireland. This project will build on that important body of research to further illuminate the threads and connections between different generations of women theatre-makers. In particular, the project will look at Charabanc’s influence and legacy as an important line of inquiry in the broader process of assembling a tradition of women’s theatre-making in the North.

While there is scholarship that asserts the importance of Charabanc’s work and their place in Irish theatre history (including Coffey, Foley, Helen Lojek and Brenda Winter); this now needs to be bolstered through examination of their influence on contemporary women’s theatre-making. Foley laid the foundations of a tradition through examination of the work of Christina Reid, Anne Devlin and Marie Jones, and Coffey augments this through analysis of women’s theatre in the early decades of the 20th century, as well as women’s theatre up to 2012. Now that it is 40 years since the premiere of Charabanc’s landmark production Lay Up Your Ends, it is time to explicitly trace the connections between Charabanc and the subsequent contemporary generation of theatre makers.

In Performing Social Change on the Island of Ireland, Ciara Murphy examines the role of second wave feminist strategies in Charabanc’s work and suggests that: One of the company’s most significant legacies was the framework the company created which served to inspire and sustain collaborative and independent theatre in the north of Ireland’. Charabanc is seminal to a tradition of women’s theatre-making: both in terms of the subjects addressed and the processes of developing the work. Moreover, following the company’s disbanding, members made varied contributions to theatre-making, north and south of the border. This PhD project takes Charabanc’s legacy as a starting point for an examination of the diverse strands of creative practice that women are engaged in, including devising, community theatre-making, directing, popular performance and playwriting. Through its address of women’s theatre from the 1990s, the project will consider developments in theatre making against a background of change in Northern Ireland as it transitions into a post-conflict society, as well as the emergence of various feminisms in this period. In light of this altered landscape, a new evaluation of contemporary women’s theatre-making through the lens of Charabanc’s influence is necessary and timely.

With a focus on women’s direct involvement in or significant contribution to the theatrical creative process (eg as writers, performers, directors, designers, facilitators, dramaturgs, and so forth), this project will ask several research questions:

– What contributions have women made to Northern Irish theatre-making since 1990?
– What are the various practices through which women’s theatrical creativity has taken shape?
– What alternative models of making and authorship are apparent when we focus on female creativity?

The urgency of documenting women’s labour in the theatre has been galvanised by Waking the Feminists Ireland and Northern Ireland. In particular, Margaret Cronin’s work (see ‘The Headcount’, https// has articulated the ongoing lack of female representation in many areas of theatre-making in the region. This project aims to retell the recent history of women’s involvement in Northern Irish theatre through a careful engagement with the various forms of gendered exclusions that remain in the industry. The project will look at what is present in the records, while maintaining a critical eye on the gaps and silences around female creative labour. Such an approach necessitates a wide range of methodologies, underpinned by a queer-feminist framework, including historiographical research into the theatre archive, historical contextualisation and oral histories style interviews with relevant persons. In marking otherwise undocumented histories, this project will make a highly original intervention into the history of theatre in Northern Ireland, complementing and supplementing existing literature.

The Drama Department at QUB has excellent connections with the professional theatre landscape in the region which will extend the research environment for the project. Additionally, there are strong links with the Linen Hall Library whose holdings include Northern Ireland’s Theatre and Performing Arts Archive.

Please note that we take the term ‘woman’ as one that describes, inclusively, cisgender women, female identifying people, and non-binary, gender queer and gender non- conforming persons.

Funding Information

UK residents and candidates with pre-settled or settled status who also satisfy a three-year residency requirement in the UK are eligible to receive a studentship covering fees and maintenance
Tuition fees will be covered by the award, together with a stipend of £18,622 per annum (2023-24 rates).
Students are eligible for support grants for any fieldwork, conference, study visits or travel costs.
Further details on eligibility may be found at:

Click here for more