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EN926 The British Dramatist in Society since 1965

Term TBD 2019-20

Tutor: Michael Meeuwis

Reading and seminar details

This module examines the work of a number of leading British and Irish playwrights from the period of Wilson and Vietnam to the present day, via the rise of Thatcher and the end of the Cold War. There will be a focus on modes of historical and documentary drama, taking in new work at theatres in the region. We shall examine scripts for both theatre and television and consider the relationship between social change and developments in dramatic form as well as content. The plays explore new definitions of sanity and madness; the relationship between class, the family and the individual; the appropriation of myth and High Culture; the rewriting of history; and shifting concepts of culture, whether Marxist, feminist or postmodern. Seminars will focus on the development of one playwright’s work and social thinking, or on one political/ethical issue and several dramatists’ response to it. It is hoped that the texts will emerge as elements in a set of evolving national debates.

Teaching Methods

Teaching is seminar-based, with weekly 2-hour sessions.

Students will give seminar introductions. These may form the basis of the essays.

The Library now subscribes to Drama Online, which gives you immediate access to hundreds of plays.

This is a wonderful resource. Please use it: read, investigate, make discoveries.

Titles below in bold can be accessed through Drama Online.

Students must purchase the following editions, which are not included in Drama Online--these should be widely available used online, and I'm certainly not fussy:

Sarah Kane, Complete Plays (any edition)

Tony Kushner, Angels in America, volumes one and two (any edition)

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, An Octoroon (NHB Modern Plays--note as well that this is not Dion Boucicault's play The Octoroon)

Jim Cartwright, Road (any edition)

Simon Stone, Yerma (Oberon--n.b. that this is not the Lorca version, but an adaption; you'll need Stone's text)

Dylan Gray, Citysong and Other Plays (NHB)

Inua Ellams, The Half-God of Rainfall (Fourth Estate)

Inua Ellams, Barber Shop Chronicles (Oberon)

Ina Ellams, Three Sisters (if edition out yet)


Week one: Selected Origins

  • Arnold Wesker, Roots
  • Terence Rattigan, The Deep Blue Sea
  • Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot


Week two: Harold Pinter

  • The Caretaker
  • The Birthday Party
  • Betrayal


Week three: Tom Stoppard

  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
  • Arcadia
  • The Invention of Love


Week four: Caryl Churchill

  • Light Shining in Buckinghamshire
  • Top Girls
  • Serious Money


Week five: Sarah Kane

  • Blasted
  • Crave
  • Cleansed
  • 48 psychosis


Week six: Special Relationships

  • Tony Kushner, Angels in America (parts one and two)
  • Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, An Octoroon


Week seven: Class and race

  • debbie tucker green, born bad
  • Jim Cartwright, Road
  • Natasha Gordon, Nine Night


Week eight: Scotland

  • John McGrath, The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black, Black Oil
  • Gregory Burke, Black Watch


Week nine: Ireland

  • Friel, Translations
  • Mark O’Rowe, Terminus
  • Dylan Gray, citysong


Week ten: Inua Ellams

  • Barbershop Chronicles
  • The Half God of Rainfall
  • Three Sisters


 Learning Outcomes

  By the end of the module you should have

   Become familiar with the work of a number of dramatists writing for British theatre and television since the mid-1960s.

  Considered the relationship between British drama and social change during the period

Considered the concepts of rewriting the past and composing the future

  Considered the theatrical consequences of major political developments. national and international

  Investigated ways in which recent British and Irish dramatic writing has responded to changing notions of national, class and regional identity and to shifting perspectives on race and gender

  Explored the theatrical application of a number of theoretical writings, including the influence of Williams, Hoggart and Cixous

  Considered modes of historical and documentary theatre

  Acquired expertise in reading dramatic texts, with particular attention to conditions of performance

  Developed your oral and presentational skills in seminar discussions and presentations

  Identified a topic for further research and critical investigation.


Course texts: editions TBD.

There are some important archives of performance you should know about. There are archives of National Theatre and RSC productions in London at Stratford, and at the Victoria and Albert Museum there's the National Video Archive of Performance (NVAP) which includes Saved, Far Away and Blue/Orange.

When you decide that you're interested in writing about a play or playwright (or introducing a session on them), see thieir archive catalogues and arrange for a research screening:

Selected Secondary Bibliography:


Arden, John, and D’Arcy, Margaretta, To Present the Pretence (London 1979)
Aston, Elaine, and Reinelt, Janelle (eds),The Cambridge Companion to Modern British Women Playwrights (Cambridge 2000)

Aston, Elaine,Feminist Views on the English Stage: Women Playwrights,1990-1999 (Cambridge 2010)
Barker, Howard, Arguments for a Theatre (London 1989)

Brenton, Howard, Hot Irons (London 1995)
Browne, Terry, Playwright's Theatre: The English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre (London 1975)
Bull, John, New British Political Dramatists (London 1984)
Case, Sue-Ellen, Feminism and Theatre (Basingstoke 1988)
- Performing Femininities: Feminist Critical Theory and Theatre (Baltimore and London 1990)
Chambers, Colin, Black and Asian Theatre in Britain (London 2011)
Cousin, Geraldine, Women in Dramatic Space and Time: Contemporary Female Characters on Stage (London 1996)
Craig, Sandy (ed.), Dreams and Deconstructions, Alternative Theatre in Britain (Ambergate 1980)
Dromgoole, Dominic, The Full Room, (London 2000)
Dutton, Richard, Modem British Tragicomedy and the British Tradition: Beckett, Pinter & Stoppard (Brighton 1986)
Edgar, David et al, Ah! Mischief: The Writer and Television (London 1982)
Edgar, David The Second Time as Farce (London 1988)
 State of Play (London 1999)
Esslin, Martin, The Theatre of the Absurd (Harmondsworth 1987)
Fitzsimmonds, Linda, File on Churchill (London 1989)
Forsyth, Alison, and Megson, Chris (eds), Get Real: Documentary Theatre Past and Present (london 2011)
Godiwala, Dimple (ed),Alternatives Within the Mainstream: British Black and Asian Theatres (Cambridge 2006) )
Goodman, Elizabeth, Contemporary Feminist Theatres (London and New York 1993)

Griffin, Gabrielle, Contemporary Black and Asian Women Playwrights in Britain (Cambridge 2010)

Hare, David, Asking Around (London 1993)
 Writing Left-handed (London 1991)
Howard, Tony, and Stokes, John (ed.) Acts of War (London 1997)
lnnes, Christopher, Modem British Drama 1890 - 1990 (Cambridge 1992)
ltzin, Catherine, Stages in the Revolution.- Political Theatre in Britain Since 1968 (London 1980)
Lacey, Stephen, British Realist Theatre: The New Wave and its Context, 1956-67 (London 1996)
McGrath, John, A Good Night Out (London 1981)
 The Bone Won’t Break (London 1990)
Nicholson, Steve and others: Modern British Playwrighting: Voices, Documents, New Interpretations. [Five vols:The Fifties/Sixties/Seventies/Eighties/Nineties/2000-2009] (London 2012)
Peacock, D. Keith, Radical Stages: Alternative History in Modern British Drama (New York 1991)
 Thatcher's Theatre (London 1999)
Rabey, David Ian, Implicating the Audience:British and Irish Political Drama in the Twentieth
Century (Basingstoke 1986)
Rebellato, Dan, 1956 And All That (London 1999)
Roberts, Philip, The Royal Court Theatre and the Modem Stage (Cambridge 1999)
Shank, Theodore (ed.), Contemporary British Theatre (London 1994)
Shellard, Dominic, British Theatre since the War (London and New Haven 2000)
Sierz, Aleks, In Yer Face Theatre (London 2001)
Rewriting the Nation (Methuen, 2010)
Taylor, John Russell, Anger and After (Harmondsworth 1964)
Sked, Alan and Cook, Chris, Post War Britain, A Political History (Harmondsworth 1988)
Wandor, Michelle, Look Back in Gender (London 1987)
Carry on Understudies (London 1986)