Thatcher's Theatre: British Theatre and Drama in the Eighties

Thatcher's Theatre: British Theatre and Drama in the Eighties

Thatcher's Theatre: British Theatre and Drama in the Eighties

Thatcher's Theatre: British Theatre and Drama in the Eighties

Synopsis

The Thatcher administration of 1979 to 1990 had a profound and apparently lasting effect on British drama and theatre. This book examines the effect of Thatcherite ideology and policies on British theatre of that period. It begins by defining "Thatcherism" and illustrating its cultural influence. It then examines the consequences of the imposition of Thatcherite policies through the agency of the Arts Council of Great Britain. Having established this political and cultural environment, the book considers in detail the effect on the subject-matter and dramatic and theatrical discourse of left-wing drama and on the subsidized political theatre companies which proliferated during the 1970s. Attention is then given to the development of "constituency theatres," such as Women's and Black Theatre, which assumed an oppositional cultural stance and, in some cases, attempted to develop characteristic theatrical and dramatic discourses. The volume concludes with a look at the effect of Thatcherite economicpolicy and,ideology on new writing and performance.

Excerpt

In May 1979 Margaret Thatcher became Britain's first woman Prime Minister. Some in Britain welcomed her subsequent attempts to introduce economic "realism" to a country plagued by strikes and inflation, to weaken the power of the Trade Unions and to reduce the expenditure on public services and transfer responsibility for many areas of welfare onto the individual. Others saw her abandonment, in favor of a more confrontational style, of the consensus politics that had dominated British government since the war, the dismantling of British industry, the privatization of state-owned companies, the attempt to reduce public expenditure and her government's increased administrative centralization, as authoritarian and uncompassionate.

Even in the first year of the Conservative parliament, the cuts imposed unexpectedly by the Arts Council made it manifestly apparent that Margaret Thatcher's economic policies would inevitably have a detrimental effect on the subsidized theatre. What theatre workers did not expect was that, particularly in her second term after 1983, Thatcher would systematically attempt to eliminate the socialist structures underpinning many areas of British society. In doing so she would initiate a wider cultural shift that would affect not only dramatic and theatrical discourse but would also force dramatists and practitioners to re-evaluate the role of theatre in contemporary Britain.

A frame for this period of "Thatcher's Theatre" is conveniently provided by two conferences. The first, on Political Theatre, was held at King's College in the University of Cambridge in March, 1978. This looked back over almost a decade's output of political theatre and assessed how effective the political theatre movement had been in raising working class consciousness and provoking widespread demand for political change. David Hare glumly pointed to the fact that, "consciousness has . . .

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