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EN107 British Theatre Since 1939


Module convenor: Dr Ronan Hatfull on

Module Overview

The module will serve both as an introduction to contemporary theatre and as a first investigation of the relationship between literary texts and the conditions of performance. Major plays of the period will be studied in their own right but also as examples of trends and developments in the period. Design, theatrical architecture, performance styles, organisations and repertoires will be studied, with special attention to assumptions concerning the social role of the drama. Where possible, texts will be related to specific productions. Writers studied will normally include: John Osborne, Arnold Wesker, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Edward Bond, Caryl Churchill, Brian Friel.


'It wasn't until director Dominic Cooke arrived at Warwick University in 1985 that he began to understand theatre's capacity to be both a political and a moral force. Fittingly enough, it was the Royal Court that seized his attention:

 "We did this brilliant course, which was basically all about the Court – about the shift from TS Eliot's The Cocktail Party to Look Back in Anger, right through Wesker, Bond, all those writers. Plays that really engaged, which were asking questions."'

Dominic Cooke, Artistic Director of the Royal Court Theatre (Guardian, 29.1.2011)

Recommended reading over the summer:

Incoming students might want to purchase, and have a look at, the anthology Methuen Drama Book of Plays from the Sixties (Bloomsbury/Methuen, 2008), which contains quite a few of the plays we'll be looking at. All the plays we will look at in term 1 are available electronically from the library once you have arrived and are enrolled, but you may like to have hard copies in the anthology. The plays are also available to purchase separately, or in collections of the playwrights' work.

For a general introduction to the period and theatre, students could look at Dominic Shellard's British Theatre since the War (Yale University Press, 2000).

Also just see any plays that you can over the summer!

Pattern of the Module:

Term 1: Postwar British theatre: Realism and the Absurd

Term 2: Plays after 1968: exploring national, personal and gendered identity

Term 3: Contemporary theatre: student-led syllabus



Week 1: Introduction

Week 2: John Osborne, Look Back in Anger; The Entertainer scenes 1, 2, 7 and 13
(this and all subsequent seminars as per your individual timetable)

Week 3: Shelagh Delaney, A Taste of Honey *; excerpts from O What a Lovely War 

Week 4: Arnold Wesker, Roots *$

Week 5: Harold Pinter, The Birthday Party*; Mountain Language

Week 6: Reading Week (no seminar)

Week 7: Samuel Beckett, Happy Days*; Not I

Week 8: Errol John, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl

Week 9: John Arden, Serjeant Musgrave's Dance* $

Week 10: Edward Bond, Saved; Early Morning $

* film/TV/filmed version available on DVD from the library

$ in the Methuen Drama Book of Plays from the Sixties



Week 1: Joe Orton, Loot $

Week 2 Steven Berkoff, Metamorphosis* (Assessed Essay 1 due)

Week 3: Caryl Churchill, Top Girls+*

Week 4: Terry Johnson Hysteria+

Week 5: Brian Friel, Translations 

Week 6: Reading Week (no seminar)

Week 7: Martin McDonagh, The Beauty Queen of Leenane+; Lieutenant of lnnishmore

Week 8: Sarah Kane, Blasted+

Week 9: Mark Ravenhill, Shopping and F* * *ing+ (Assessed Essay 2 due)

Week 10: Debbie Tucker Green, Stoning Mary

$ in the Methuen Drama Book of Plays from the Sixties

+ - in The Methuen Book of Modern Drama: Plays of the 80s and 90s

* - film/TV version available


 Weeks 1-3: Student-led seminars

Teaching Methods

Teaching is seminar-based, with weekly 1.5 hour sessions.



Assessment is by three essays, each of c.2,500 words.

There is also a non-assessed essay in term 1 - this is compulsory, but formative, i.e. its mark does not count towards the final module mark. You do need to complete this essay to pass the module, however! This will be a drafting exercise: the non-assessed essay will form the basis of your first assessed essay.

In order to test relationships between text and performance on the contemporary stage, one essay should be on a play seen in production.


Essay writing

Click on the link below for information on essay-writing workshops and the Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellows, who can give you one-to-one advice on your work, in particular in terms of writing style and argumentation:

These types of specialist writing tuition will make a huge difference to your competence at and enjoyment of the essay-writing process - I can't recommend them highly enough.


Assessed Essays

Each essay will have the following elements:

• A full bibliography, including publication details, showing evidence of secondary critical reading.

• Short title references within the text, referring to the works in the bibliography at the end, eg. (The Birthday Party, 45) or (Complete Works, 97) after quotations to indicate page numbers.

• The essay will be anonymous, but will have your student number on every page.

Non-Assessed Essay (due Week 7)


In his book State of Nation (2007), theatre critic Michael Billington observes: 'One thing was clear by the mid-fifties: the generational, class and cultural divisions that had been bubbling away for some time in British society were at last beginning to find their expression on the public stage.' Discuss this statement with reference to two of the plays studied in the module so far.


‘For Jimmy Porter… questions of manhood and virility are at stake… as much if not more than the state of the world.’ (Michelene Wandor, Look Back in Gender). Discuss in relation to Look Back in Anger and another play of your choice.

3. 'If you could have a child, and it would die.' (John Osborne, Look Back in Anger). Discuss Jimmy as a protagonist in relation to a tragic figure from another literary and/or theatrical tradition (e.g. Greek/Elizabethan/American).


1.Students should consider buying two anthologies: The Methuen Book of Plays from the Sixties (Methuen 2008) and The Methuen Book of modern drama: Plays of the '80s and '90s (Methuen 2001).

Almost all of the plays we will study are also available online via Drama Online once you are enrolled at the university -- see the library catalogue.

If you do want to buy hard copies, please note that several plays are published both as individual texts and in collected editions (e.g. Pinter’s The Birthday Party is published separately and in Pinter: Plays Vol. One). Check the library catalogue and the bookshop.

2.In some cases (e.g. Oh What a Lovely War; Berkoff’s Metamorphosis) the principal text will be a video/DVD production.


Suggested Background Reading:

Dominic Dromgoole: The Full Room, Methuen 2000b

David Edgar, ed. State of Play , Faber 1999

Christopher Innes: Modern British Drama 1890-1990, Cambridge 1992

Stephen Lacey: British Realist Theatre: The New Wave in Its Context 1956-1965, Routledge, 1995

Dan Rebellato: 1956 And All That - The Making of Modem British Drama, Routledge 1999

Dominic Shellard: British Theatre since the War, Yale 2000

Aleks Sierz: In Yer Face Theatre, Faber 2001

Taylor, John Russell: Anger and After, Penguin1964

Micheline Wandor: Look Back in Gender, Methuen 1987

Students arc very strongly encouraged to read theatre periodicals in the library to keep up with new developments: n.b. Plays and Players, Theatre Record, New Theatre Quarterly.


Secondary Reading

Banham, Martin, John Osborne (Edinburgh, 1969)

Barker, Howard, Arguments for a Theatre (London: John Calder 1989)

Beckett. Samuel, Happy Days: Samuel Beckett's Production Notebook, ed by James Knowlson (London: Faber, 1985)

Michael Billington, The Life and Works of Harold Pinter (London: Faber and Faber, 1996)

Browne, Terry, Playwright's Theatre: The English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre (London: Pitman, 1975)

Bull, John, New British Political Dramatists (London: MacMillan, 1984)

Case,Sue-Ellen, Feminism and Theatre (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988)

- Performing Femininities: Feminist Critical Theory and Theatre (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990)

- Split Britches: Lesbian Practice, Feminist Performance (London: Routledge, 1996)

Cousin, Geraldine, Churchill The Playwright (London: Methuen, 1989)

- Women in Dramatic Space and Time: Contemporary Female Characters on Stage (London: Routledge, 1996)

Coult, Tony, The Plays of Edward Bond (London: Methuen, 1977)

Craig,Sandy (ed.), Dreams and Deconstructions, Alternative Theatre in Britain (Ambergate: Amber Lane, 1980)

Cronin, Anthony, Samuel Beckett, The Last Modernist (New York: Harper Collins, 1997)

Dominic Dromgoole, The Full Room (London: Methuen, 2000)

Dutton, Richard, Modem British Tragicomedy and the British Tradition: Beckett, Pinter & Stoppard (Brighton: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1986)

Edgar, David, State of Play (London: Faber, 1999)

Esslin, Martin, The Theatre of the Absurd (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987)

- Pinter, A Study of His Plays (London: Eyre Methuen, 1973)

Fitzsimmonds, Linda, File on Churchill (London: Methuen, 1989)

Goodman, Elizabeth, Contemporary Feminist Theatres (London and New York: Routledge, 1993)

Goorney, Howard, The Theatre Workshop Story (London: Methuen, 1981)

lnnes, Christopher, Modem British Drama 1890 - 1990 (Cambridge: CUP, 1992)

ltzin, Catherine, Stages in the Revolution.- Political Theatre in Britain Since 1968 (London: Methuen, 1980)

Lacey, Stephen, British Realist Theatre: The New Wave In Its Context 1956-1965 (London: Routledge, 1995)

Lahr, John (ed), The Orton Diaries (London: Methuen, 1986)

Leeming, Glenda, Wesker the Playwright (London: Methuen, 1983)

Chris Megson, Modern British Playwriting: The 1970s (London: Methuen, 2012)

McGrath, John, A Good Night Out (London: Methuen, 1981)

Milling, Jane, Modern British Playwriting: The 1980s (London: Methuen, 2012)

Nicholson, Steve, Modern British Playwriting: The 1960s (London: Methuen, 2012)

Pattie, David, Modern British Playwriting: The 1950s (London: Methuen, 2012)

Peacock, D. Keith, Thatcher's Theatre (London: Greenwood, 1999)

Rebellato, Dan, 1956 And All That (London: Routledge, 1999)

- Modern British Playwriting: 2000-2009 (London: Methuen, 2012)

Roberts, Philip, The Royal Court Theatre and the Modem Stage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999)

- Edward Bond: A Companion to His Plays (London: T.Q. Publications, 1978)

Shellard, Dominic, British Theatre since the War (London and New Haven:Yale, 2000)

Sierz, Aleks, In Yer Face Theatre (London, Faber: 2001)

- Modern British Playwriting: The 1990s (London: Methuen, 2012)

Sked, Alan and Cook, Chris, Post War Britain, A Political History (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1988)

Taylor, John Russell, Anger and After (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1964)

Wandor, Michelle, Look Back in Gender (London, Methuen, 1987)

- Carry on Understudies (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986)

You are also encouraged to read more widely in the works of playwrights who particularly interest you. Several writers are the subject of monographs not listed here: consult the library catalogue.

Useful links

Current theatre/ production information

The British Theatre Guide

Week 1 Lecture (from a previous version of the course)

Course soundtrack (under construction)