Why I Love the Royal Court (or Women in Theatre)

There is not enough menstruation in literature. I have never read about menstruation in a story or seen a film or a play in which menstruation is covered, mentioned or happens. Ever.

The hot fear of the tight, white, linen pant, the bold choice of the tight, white, linen pant – are never mentioned in novels. The creeping stains, the trickles and the spots never make a show on screen. It is never a plot device. What a waste of a perfectly good and fairly universal Western paranoia and source of metaphor.

It is only ever a MALE costume designer who thinks it would be a good idea to put your (female) character in a tight, white, linen pant on stage every night for nine months. And that would be fine and possibly in keeping for most nights of those nine months. But for a scattered few of those nights among those nine months the performance will require the most towering courage, most profound discipline of mind and creative exploitation of every mirror-opportunity available.

I love the Royal Court. I visited the Court a while back, I go often, and as usual I sprinted from the tube to the theatre only minutes before the show went up. On this occasion I had only a little while earlier realised that not only was I due on. I was on. I was not, thank you God, wearing white. I never wear white. But I wasn’t wearing any sanitary protection (now there’s a phrase you never see in a novel) either.

Maybe you’ve seen it in a novel. I’ve never seen it in a novel. There are some phrases you only ever see on the backs of packets of things.

I have a friend who once, as a teenager, was forced to use a rolled up pair of tights stuck into her pants when she was caught short at school. She was between classes when she discovered that the tights had unravelled and were dragging behind her from beneath her skirt, painting a trail down the institutional lino of the school corridor. It’s the kind of story you are only going to hear in a dressing-room.

At the Royal Court on this particular visit, I hurried into the ladies’ loo, where the inevitable ladies’ queue slouched forward as the muffled dingdinging of the 3 minute call sounded behind me. There was a sanitary protection dispenser (sanitary protection dispenser!) on the wall. I put £2 into it and pressed the button.


I pressed the button again. Nothing again. I banged it a little and I tweaked at the knob which gives you a refund. Nothing. No refund.

The dingdingdings were receding in the foyer. The queue in the loo was dwindling which means the theatre is filling and the show is about to go up. I could not go and sit in that theatre for an hour and half or whatever the first half was going to be without making this machine work. Or something.

I ran out to the bar (congested with people who are either men or people who are seeing the later show upstairs.) I got the attention of a woman serving.

“Hi. Sorry. I’ve just lost some money in the (what is it called?) tampon machine (can everyone hear?) It’s not working and I’ve got to go in.” I indicated the theatre door where a few people were still hanging around but not many. Most people were in their seats inside.

“Ok,” she said. “I’ll have a look.”

She took £2 out of the till and we went back to the loos (now nearly empty) and she had a go at the machine. The money went down, nothing came out. It would not refund. Nothing.

I said something like: “God I’m so stupid, I wasn’t expecting…”

or I said: “43 years old you’d think I’d have learned to organise myself by now…”

or I said: “Shit. I’ve go to go in.”

She said: “Come with me.”

We left the loo and she ducked into a little office right next to the loos and came out with her handbag. She dug around and found a tampon.

“God. God. Thank you.”

“Gotta stick together.”

I rushed back into the loo, sorted myself out and then ran into the theatre just as the air had started to settle into that darkness.

I did not see the woman again even when I looked for her after the show had finished. I thought of taking her flowers but I was not entirely sure I would recognise her or how I would identify her if she was not there.

I have a busy life so I never even get close to taking her flowers.


7 thoughts on “Why I Love the Royal Court (or Women in Theatre)

  1. Pads, tampons, (and other forms of, cough, protection)… those loo dispensers are always hopeless. You have my sympathy. Btw, Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls has a rather memorable menstruation scene if I remember correctly. x

    • Ha! I am ashamed to tell you how few of her plays I have seen. None written before 2000… yes she does the topic well.

  2. Those machines never work! I expect a lot of women have been ‘caught out’ in the past. I once had to use half a loo roll (not the posh soft type) and I ended up walking like John Wayne for a fortnight!
    I am sure women could cope with the mention of mentstration in books, plays and films.
    Could men? There lies the real issue.
    Helen x

    • Hello Helen!
      Could men?
      Surely, I say, surely.
      I’ll wait for someone to tell me otherwise.
      Surely. No?

  3. Hurrah for that woman!
    A dust-gathering, naff ms that I’m going to have a go at rewriting to a decent standard when I’ve finished the work in progress has two scenes of menstruation. Crossing my fingers it won’t be one of those she-should-have-left-this-in-the-drawer mistakes.
    Meanwhile… Carrie by Stephen King…

    • Carrie! Really? I don’t do Stephen King because I can’t do horror.- I can barely do thrillers. I am such a Princess. But I have seen the poster. Really? Carrie?
      What a nightmare.
      Dust off the ms. Add more mens scenes.

  4. Wikipedia quotes King:
    Some woman said, ‘You write all those macho things, but you can’t write about women.’ I said, ‘I’m not scared of women. I could write about them if I wanted to.’ So I got an idea for a story about this incident in a girls’ shower room, and the girl would be telekinetic. The other girls would pelt her with sanitary napkins when she got her period. The period would release the right hormones and she would rain down destruction on them… I did the shower scene, but I hated it and threw it away.”
    His wife fished the pages out of the garbage and encouraged him to finish the story; he followed her advice and expanded it into a novel.

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