Radical Stages: Alternative History in Modern British Drama

Radical Stages: Alternative History in Modern British Drama

Radical Stages: Alternative History in Modern British Drama

Radical Stages: Alternative History in Modern British Drama

Synopsis

This volume examines the evolution of British historical drama from John Osborne's 1956 landmark Look Back in Anger to the 1980s. Peacock illustrates how the ruling group within a society establishes a cultural hegemony by which it perpetuates its values and demonstrates how the historical drama of the period was employed as a weapon in an assault upon this cultural hegemony. Among dramatists examined are Howard Brenton, Trevor Griffiths, Edward Bond, and David Edgar. The study analyzes how the revolutionary and social movements of the period, including the women's movement, are reflected in its historical drama and speculates on the future of British historical drama in the changing political climate of the 1990s.

Excerpt

In 1956, in the play that inaugurated the New British Theatre, John Osborne's Jimmy Porter looked back in anger at what he considered to be his country's spiritual decline. In the years that followed, many British dramatists were also to reveal an acute consciousness of history, particularly of English history, and were repeatedly to exhibit an almost reflexive tendency to evoke the past in their dramatic exploration of hitherto neglected areas in the social and political life of their country. As Edward Bond has written, "Our age, like every age, needs to reinterpret the past as part of learning to understand itself, so that we can know what we are and what we should do." Indeed, in a theatre that was attempting to chart the kind of new territory referred to above and was to associate itself predominantly with those ideals of social democracy which marked the early years of the post-war period, the examination and use of the past was to become as important as the analysis of the present. Most significantly, in the 1960s historical drama increasingly began to reflect the aspirations and activities of ordinary people rather than the lives and achievements of their rulers and in the 1970s was to become closely associated with the political aspirations of the New Left. It is with the nature and evolution of this radical British historical drama over three decades that this book is concerned.

It must be admitted from the outset that the post-1956 dramatisation of history has in many cases proved controversial. As might be expected from a theatre born in a period of social protest and associated with youthful rebellion, its opposition to the values and assump-

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