Feminist Views on the English Stage: Women Playwrights, 1990-2000

Feminist Views on the English Stage: Women Playwrights, 1990-2000

Feminist Views on the English Stage: Women Playwrights, 1990-2000

Feminist Views on the English Stage: Women Playwrights, 1990-2000

Synopsis

Feminist Views on the English Stage, first published in 2003, is an exciting and insightful study on drama from a feminist perspective, one that challenges an idea of the 1990s as a 'post-feminist' decade and pays attention to women's playwriting marginalized by a 'renaissance' of angry young men. Working through a generational mix of writers, from Sarah Kane, the iconoclastic 'bad girl' of the stage, to the 'canonical' Caryl Churchill, Elaine Aston charts the significant political and aesthetic changes in women's playwriting at the century's end. Aston also explores writing for the 1990s in theatre by Sarah Daniels, Bryony Lavery, Phyllis Nagy, Winsome Pinnock, Rebecca Prichard, Judy Upton and Timberlake Wertenbaker.

Excerpt

A dominant view of the British stage as it entered the final decade of the twentieth century was that it was in a critical state; was on a downward spiral as it struggled to survive the draconian effects of the Thatcher years. In particular, paralleling the millennial moment of 100 years earlier, the 1990s, like the 1890s, were apparently suffering from a lack of 'new drama'. The 'most telling indicator of diminishing theatrical vitality', writes Christopher Innes in conclusion to his epic study Modern British Drama 1890–1990, 'is the comparative absence of new playwrights'. When Innes arrives at 1990, the final moment in a century of theatre that he traces back to Shaw in 1890, he presents a bleak picture of playwrights withdrawing from theatre (Harold Pinter), not developing (Howard Barker and Howard Brenton), retreating into commercialism (Peter Schaffer), or becoming part of an 'old guard' (David Hare, Tom Stoppard, Alan Ayckbourn).

However, in contrast to the downward trend in British drama as viewed through his list of male playwrights, Innes cites the emergence of women dramatists as a potentially energising force, given their political drive and desire to experiment. 'Present tense – feminist theatre' is how Innes titles his final chapter, set apart and signalling a new departure from the patterns and categories of playwriting through which he maps his century of drama. Innes was not alone in noting the energies of feminist theatre. Playwright David Edgar signals 'the explosion of new women's theatre' in the 1980s, and theatre critic Benedict Nightingale, endorsing Edgar's view, cites women's drama as the 'most positive aspect' of the 1980s, an otherwise 'barren decade for new drama'. From the vantage point of a new century it might be reasonable, therefore, to expect to be looking back on a decade when . . .

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