Module convenor: Michael Meeuwis
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: Arnold Wesker, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Caryl Churchill, Brian Friel.
Click here for an introduction video from the instructor.
1 September, click here for thinking about Decolonising the Curriculum and this module.
'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/watching over the summer:
Everyone should watch Terence Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea, which we'll talk about in week 1. It's available in Drama Online, https://www.dramaonlinelibrary.com/playtext-overview?docid=do-9781784601614&tocid=do-9781784601614-div-00000005&st=deep+blue+sea . Do please note the play is different from the 1999 film of the same name; if you are watching Samuel Jackson being eaten by a shark, you are in the wrong version.
Students often ask what extra reading will be helpful in the module. Bertolt Brecht and Samuel Beckett are the two precursor playwrights (and in Brecht's case impresario) who have the greatest influence over the period. We're reading Beckett, but there isn't really space for Brecht. Have a look at the summaries of his theatrical style here, and watch this video for a quick guide to Brechtian acting techniques.
TERM ONE: NEVER SO GOOD
Week 1: Introduction (asynchronous seminar content)
BBC Radio 4 production of Look Back in Anger. Directed by Richard Wilson and starring David Tennant as Jimmy Porter. Also featuring Claire Price, Daniel Evans, Ian McKellen and Nancy Carroll.
Tennant Looks Back at Osborne. David Tennant hears interviews with John Osborne, reads his personal letters, as well as archive of critic Kenneth Tynan and director Tony Richardson. He also plays extracts from previous productions, including a classic with Richard Burton as Jimmy Porter. Contributors include playwright David Hare, critic Michael Billington, and actors Gary Raymond and George Devine.
British New Wave: Episode 2, Beyond the Kitchen Sink. Using the BBC's and his own archives Paul Allen explores the artistic and social upheavals of the British New Wave. He reveals how it was not a single movement, but a series of progressions in literature and theatre, and in popular forms beyond these, and went way beyond 'kitchen sink' dramas.
BBC Radio 4 Extra production of The Entertainer. Starring Bill Nighy as Archie Rich.
Week 3: Shelagh Delaney, A Taste of Honey (1958) (asynchronous seminar content)
Radio 4 extra production of A Taste of Honey. 90 minute radio adaptation starring Siobhan Finneran.
Andrew Marr’s History of Modern Britain - Episode 2: The Land of Lost Content. The Sixties spirit of change is in the air, and Britain will never be governed in the same way again. This is the fascinating story of the perfect political storm. Andrew Marr describes a relentless build up of pressure from frustrated, resentful people who are hungry for change. This is a Britain of growing racial tensions, of working-class teenagers who don’t want to know their place any longer, of CND protesters and a new breed of scathing satirists.
Monitor: Shelagh Delaney’s Salford. Delaney looks at Salford, where she grew up and where the action of her plays takes place.
Week 4: Arnold Wesker, Chicken Soup with Barley (1956) and Roots (1958)
Look for the clips from the Nottingham Playhouse production in rehearsal on YouTube.
Week 5: Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot (1953); Happy Days (1961); Not I (1973)
The 'Beckett on Film' production of Happy Days, directed by Patricia Rozema is on YouTube (it's in English, despite the Greek title/description). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I3y_5WfHkCY And you can find the inimitable Billie Whitelaw (or at least her mouth) performing Not I on the great resource for modernist culture, UbuWeb -- a bit of interview with Whitelaw and then the tv film of Not I starts: http://ubu.com/film/beckett_not.html
Week 6: Reading Week (no seminar)
Week 7: Harold Pinter, The Birthday Party (1957), Betrayal (1978)
YouTube has the wonderfully acted BBC tv play from 1987 (in four parts) here -- Kenneth Cranham is great, and Pinter himself plays Goldberg! A stellar cast of British character actors. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vbXyXeEDhU Looks drab, but that's fitting...
Pinter gentrifies himself a bit with Betrayal, the film version of which is near and dear to the instructor's heart. Do see if you can get a copy of it--this gives you the feel.
Week 8: Joe Orton, Loot (1965)
Also, every summary module bears the weight of things left off the syllabus for want of space, time, and focus. Students seeking to get a feel for the progression of the stage should read Edward Bond's Saved (1965) and Steven Berkhoff's East (1975). It lightens the instructor's heart that Saved is being left off the syllabus: its attack on the welfare state had an urgency in its time that subsequent developments have made foolhardy at best, and we can all do with fewer plays depicting those living in council housing as violent animals. Berkhoff's abstract Brechtian experiments are far more interesting--he's due a major revival sometime.
Week 9: Mustafa Matura, Play Mas (1975)
I'm skipping some of the expected plays in what has become a pretty established canon. Andrea Dunbar's Rita, Sue, and Bob Too (1982) has become part of the literary record--it's probably worth reading, for those who wish a full account of what we now associate with the period. The specifics of Dunbar's relationship with Max Stafford-Clark, which we will discuss in seminar, are extremely problematic; as a result of that relationship, I frankly think there are more interesting things we can do with our time. Howard Barker's Seven Lears (1989) is also a syllabus mainstay, popular with student productions as well. I'm not sure its interest in a particular sort of masculinity makes it as necessary in 2020 as it might previously have been.
Week 10: Caryl Churchill, Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (1976); Top Girls (1982)
TERM TWO: NICE UNION YOU GOT HERE, SHAME IF SOMETHING HAPPENED TO IT
Week 1: John McGrath, The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black, Black Oil (1973); Lee Hall, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour (2015)
Week 2: Brian Friel, Translations (1980); Mark O'Rowe, Terminus (2007)
Week 3: Mark Ravenhill, Shopping and F***ing (1996), The Cane (2018)
Week 4: debbie tucker green, stoning mary (2005), born bad (2003)
Week 5: Simon Stephens, Port (2002); Jez Butterworth, Jerusalem (2009)
Week 6: Reading Week (no seminar)
Week 7: Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag (2013)
Week 8: Enda Walsh, Disco Pigs (1996) and Ballyturk (2014)
Week 9: Carol Anne Duffy and Rufus Norris, My Country: A Work in Progress (2017); Mike Bartlett, Albion (2017)
Week 10: Ambreen Razia, The Diary of a Hounslow Girl (2015)
Student-led seminars on post-2000 plays by British playwrights not yet studied on the module.
Examples might include Mike Bartlett, Jez Butterworth, Martin Crimp, David Greig, Robert Icke, Dennis Kelly, Ben Power, Lucy Prebble, Nina Raine, Tom Stoppard, Polly Stenham, Simon Stephens and Laura Wade.
Email your chosen to firstname.lastname@example.org by Term 2 Week 10.
Weeks 1: TBC
Week 2: TBC
Week 3: TBC (Assessed Essay 3 due)
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.
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.
'If you could have a child, and it would die.' (John Osborne, Look Back in Anger). Discuss any protagonist studied on the module so far in relation to a tragic figure from another theatrical tradition.
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.
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.