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Theatre and Performance - Political Theatre

Autumn Term 2006
Tutor: Dr Nadine Holdsworth
Seminars: Friday 2-4pm
Room: H081

  • A 3000 word essay (essay questions to be released in week 5)
  • A 1.5 hour exam in the summer term
Module Description:

During this module students will discuss twentieth and twenty-first century British playwrights, performance artists and theatre practitioners who have used theatre and performance as a response to, intervention in and means of debating the economic, political, and cultural forces of their time. The module will consider why and how theatre practitioners have used the theatrical event as an agent to support calls for radical political change during key points of the twentieth century or to engage with specific moments of economic and/or socio-political tension or crisis. We will investigate how theatre makers and playwrights have used theatre to critique structures of knowledge and power, as well as discussing how theatre/performance has responded to the changing British political and cultural landscape following the impact of Thatcherism, global capitalism and retreats from class-based activism. By looking at a variety of theatrical forms, the module will encourage students to explore and assess some of the textual, theatrical and performative strategies used to engage and politicise audiences from the 1930s through to the twenty-first century. As a framework for discussions, the module will draw on wider theoretical debates concerning class, community, culture and shifting notions of the ‘political’ in order to illuminate the debates raised by the plays and performances encountered.

Playwrights, theatre-makers and performance artists discussed will include: Howard Brenton, Gregory Burke, Jim Cartwright, Caryl Churchill, DV8, Trevor Griffiths, Sarah Kane, Byrony Lavery, John McGrath, Tony Harrison, Michael Landy, Mark Ravenhill and the Workers' Theatre Movement.

Learning Outcomes:

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

Subject Knowledge and Understanding
  1. Demonstrate an understanding of the ways in which playwrights and theatre-makers have used theatre to respond to, intervene in and debate economic, political, and cultural forces during the twentieth and early twenty-first century in Britain, and display an understanding of why and how the concerns addressed have shifted in relation to wider historical contexts.
  2. Show an awareness of how theories, issues and debates relating to class and culture have been explored in and through the subject matter, forms, creative processes and performance contexts utilised in a variety of theatre works.
  3. Describe and assess some of the textual, theatrical and performative strategies used in the works studied.
Key Skills
  1. Access and collate relevant primary and secondary sources.
  2. Undertake research tasks and use appropriate research tools.
  3. Coherently communicate what they have learnt and to argue their point of view orally and in written form.
  4. Display good time management and organisational skills by meeting deadlines and preparing work to an acceptable standard


Cognitive Skills
  1. Critically analyse diverse forms of theatre and performance practice.
  2. Make connections between forms of theatre and attendant social, political and cultural debates and theories.
  3. Collate, examine and utilise relevant primary and secondary source material.


Subject Specific/Professional Skills
  1. Describe, interpret and evaluate performance texts, production techniques and performance events within their historical and cultural contexts
  2. Engage critically with a range of critical and theoretical perspectives.
  3. Embark on appropriate independent research.
  4. Demonstrate organisational, communication and presentational skills.