Strategies of Political Theatre: Post-War British Playwrights

Strategies of Political Theatre: Post-War British Playwrights

Strategies of Political Theatre: Post-War British Playwrights

Strategies of Political Theatre: Post-War British Playwrights

Synopsis

Michael Patterson analyzes a group of twentieth century British playwrights' respective strategies for persuading audiences of the need for radical restructuring of society. He examines plays by Arnold Wesker, John Arden, Trevor Griffith, Howard Barker, Howard Brenton, Edward Bond, David Hare, John McGrath and Caryl Churchill. Each chapter is devoted to an exploration of the engagement of individual playwrights with left-wing political theatre, including a detailed analysis of one of their major plays.

Excerpt

This book is about a curious phenomenon. It examines the work of nine talented and innovative British playwrights who shared a laudable but strange conviction: that by writing plays and having them performed, they might help to change the way society is structured.

It is not a new conviction. Over two millennia ago Aristotle's theory of catharsis, that by watching a tragedy we may be purged of unhealthy emotions, ascribed a direct social benefit to drama. the Christian Church, while often distrustful of theatre, was willing to use drama as one of the means of propagating faith, giving us our modern word 'propaganda'. Eighteenth-century utilitarianism frequently justified drama in terms of its social usefulness, the German playwright Friedrich Schiller typically entitling his seminal essay of 1784, 'The theatre regarded as a moral institution'.

In the twentieth century, theatre with an intention to convert to a new way of thinking, or at least to challenge old modes of thought, became more overtly political, questioning not so much social morality as the fundamental organization of society, with the emphasis on economics rather than on ethics. Usually informed by Marx's analysis of capitalism, a number of directors and playwrights, most notably Erwin Piscator and Bertolt Brecht, sought to use the stage to propose socialist alternatives to the injustices of the world about them. in so doing they helped to define what we have now come to term 'political theatre', the actual title of Piscator's 1929 book on his work in the theatre.

All theatre is political. Indeed, it is the most political of all art forms. Most obviously, it is presented in a much more public forum than any other art. a novel may be read by more people than see a . . .

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