Skip to main content



Week 1: Induction Activities

Unit One: The Modern Stage: Naturalism and Symbolism: Paola Botham

Week 2: Ibsen and the Rise of Naturalism

This session will examine the emergence of Naturalist theatre at the end of the 19th century as a profound shift which responded to a new, ‘modern’ sensibility. We will explore Naturalism in theory (Zola) and practice (Stanislavsky), focusing on one of the plays which defined the era: Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (1879).

Ibsen, Henrik (1998) A Doll’s House, in Four Major Plays, trans. by James McFarlane and Jens Arup, Oxford: OUP, pp. 1-88 (please note that this play is available to access at the Bloomsbury Drama Online database under the library’s electronic resources)
extracts from Innes, Christopher (ed.) (2000), A Sourcebook on Naturalist Theatre, London: Routledge (available online) – read Chapter 3, section 2, “Émile Zola and André Antoine”, pp. 46-53 and Chapter 4, section 3, “A Doll’s House” (including up to subsection 4.3.3), pp. 78-86.

PowerPoint Week 2

Week 3: Shaw and British Social Realism

This session will explore G. Bernard Shaw’s distinct strand of Naturalism with a social emphasis, informed by political ideas and highly influential in modern British theatre practice. Working with Mrs Warren’s Profession (1893), we will also consider the turn-of-the-century phenomenon of the ‘New Woman’.

Shaw, Bernard (2000) Mrs Warren’s Profession, in Plays Unpleasant, London: Penguin, pp. 179-289
and extracts from Innes, Christopher (ed.) (2000), A Sourcebook on Naturalist Theatre, London: Routledge (available online) – read Chapter 3, subsection 3.4.1 “Bernard Shaw, The Quintessence of Ibsenism, 1891”, pp. 61-63 and Chapter 6, section 1, “Context” (including up to subsection 6.1.4), pp. 189-204.

PowerPoint Week 3

Week 4: Strindberg and Early Modernist Experimentation

This session will focus on August Strindberg and illustrate how Naturalist theatre soon began to incorporate more symbolic modes of expression: Miss Julie (1888), a model naturalistic play, also anticipates its author’s subsequent formal experimentation. We will then discuss the Symbolist movement as an early modernist reaction against Naturalism.

Strindberg, August (1989) Miss Julie, in Plays: One, trans. by Michael Meyer,* London: Methuen, pp. 81-103 (intro and preface - please note that this play is available to access at the Bloomsbury Drama Online Database under the library’s electronic resources) and pp. 105-146
and extracts from Gale, Maggie and John F. Deeney (eds.) (2010), The Routledge Drama Anthology and Sourcebook, London: Routledge – from Part 1 read Strindberg’s “Preface to Miss Julie”, pp. 138-146 and “The Modern Drama” by Maurice Maeterlinck, pp. 153-157.
*This translation is also available on the Methuen Student Edition of Miss Julie (2006), which includes Strindberg’s preface to the play.

PowerPoint Week 4

Week 5: Lorca, between Realism and Symbolism

This session will consider the final play of Spanish poet and dramatist Federico García Lorca, The House of Bernarda Alba (1936), as an example of modern theatre’s tension between the social and the poetic. We will explore Lorca’s stylised approach to drama alongside his urgent denunciation of women’s oppression (a theme that runs throughout this first unit).

García Lorca, Federico (1999) The House of Bernarda Alba, in Four Major Plays, trans. by John Edmunds, Oxford: OUP, pp. 117-172 (please note that this play is available to access at the Bloomsbury Drama Online database under the library’s electronic resources)
Delgado, Maria M. (2008) “The ‘Known’ Lorcas: The House of Bernarda Alba (1936)” in Federico García Lorca, London: Routledge, pp. 103-120 (available as an electronic resource through the library).

PowerPoint Week 5

Week 6: Reading Week (no classes)

Unit Two: What Now? Contemporary British Theatre: Paola Botham

Week 7: New Realisms, part 1: The History Play

This session will offer a contextualisation of contemporary British theatre in terms of its immediate past (after 1956) and focus on current forms which have somehow reinvented the realist tradition. Working with Howard Brenton’s In Extremis (2006), we will open this segment by exploring the characteristics and present relevance of the ‘history play’.

Brenton, Howard (2006) In Extremis: The Story of Abelard and Heloise, London: NHB
Palmer, Richard H. (1998) “Introduction” in The Contemporary British History Play, Westport, CT and London: Greenwood Press, pp. 1-20 (available at

PowerPoint Week 7

Week 8: New Realisms, part 2: Verbatim Theatre

Continuing with the topic outlined above, this session will examine the recent proliferation of ‘verbatim theatre’ in the UK from political, ethical and aesthetic perspectives. We will explore different forms of this practice, from the tribunal plays at the Tricycle theatre to the ‘headphone-verbatim’ work of Alecky Blythe’s company Recorded Delivery.

Blythe, Alecky (2006) Cruising, London: NHB
Luckhurst, Mary (2008) “Verbatim Theatre, Media Relations and Ethics” in Holdsworth, Nadine and Mary Luckhurst (eds.) A Concise Companion to British and Irish Drama, Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 200-222 (available at


PowerPoint Week 8

Week 9: (Feminist) Formal Departures, part 1: Churchill and Kane

The final segment will consider subversions of realism in British theatre, with a particular focus on women playwrights of different generations. In this session we will revisit 1990s’ ‘in-yer-face theatre’ from a feminist perspective and then compare two seminal plays of the turn of the millennium: Sarah Kane’s Blasted (1995) and Caryl Churchill’s Far Away (2000).

Kane, Sarah (2001) Blasted, in Complete Plays, London: Methuen, pp. 1-61
Churchill, Caryl (2000) Far Away, London: NHB
and extracts from Aston, Elaine (2003) Feminist Views on the English Stage: Women Playwrights, 1990-2000, Cambridge: CUP (available online) – read the first part of Chapter 1 “A Feminist View of the 1990s” (pp. 1-11); the introduction and section on Far Away from Chapter 2 “Telling Feminist Tales: Caryl Churchill” (pp. 18-20; 35-36), and the introduction and section on Blasted from Chapter 5 “Sarah Kane: The ‘Bad Girl of Our Stage’?” (pp. 77-89).

PowerPoint Week 9

Week 10: (Feminist) Formal Departures, part 2: debbie tucker green

Concluding the segment above, this session will explore the theatre of one of the most innovative British dramatists working today, debbie tucker green. We will examine her play Stoning Mary (2005) in terms of textual and staging devices. We will also discuss whether it challenges or confirms a supposedly post-political, post-feminist milieu.

green, debbie tucker (2005) Stoning Mary, London: NHB
Goddard, Lynette (2007) “Black Feminist Futures? debbie tucker green’s in-yer-face plays” in Staging Black Feminisms: Identity, Politics, Performance, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 181-192 (available online)
Sierz, Aleks (2008) “Reality Sucks: The Slump in British New Writing”, PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 89, 30:2, 102-107 (available online).

PowerPoint Week 10


Unit Three: Aesthetics and Politics of Metatheatre: Milija Gluhovic and Silvija Jestrovic

This part of the module will look at various dimensions of metatheatre as they have been used in different forms of modern drama and on contemporary stage to question political issues, social realities, personal and collective memories, and theatre and spectatorship itself. We will discuss how strategies of metathetare, play-within-a play, and theatre-about-theatre shape the stylistic features of our case studies and generate meaning on the level of dramatic text and explore the possibilities they open within the process of staging.

Week 1: Theatricality of Reality, Illusion, and Memory: Pirandello & Kantor

This session will explore the notion of theatricality as an interplay between illusion and reality in drama, and between personal memory and stage fiction. It will investigate the presence of the authorial figure in the text and on stage, the communication circles in drama and theatre, and the process of mediation. How does the self-referentiality of theatre condition the staging process, performance choices and the roles of both author and spectator?

Luigi Pirandello, Six Characters in Search of An Author (any edition)
Tadeusz Kantor, “ Memory,” in A Journey Through Other Spaces: Essays and Manifestos 1944-1990”, ed. and trans. M. Kobialka. Berkley: U of California Press, 1993. pp.156-60
S. Jestrovic. “Removing the Footlights” in Theatre of Estrangement: Theory, Practice Ideology. Toronto: U of Toronto Press, 2006. pp. 32-41

See in class: Excerpt from Kantor’s Wielopole, Wielopole (1980)

Week 2: Politicising Theatre Within the Theatre: Brecht’s The Good Person from Szechwan

This session will look into Brecht’s play The Good Person from Szechwan to explore how theatre within the theatre and other epic devices work in the context of politically engaged performance. We will explore Brecht’s notion of Verfremdung as a conceptual and practical strategy of making the political reality strange in theatre. How to use theatricality as a device of political performance? How do epic devices make the familiar political reality strange? What is Brecht’s concept of historization? What is the relationship between text and context? How to historicise and contextualise Brecht’s own work in contemporary staging?

Brecht The Caucasian Chalk Circle (any edition)
John Willet, Brecht on Theatre: “The Modern Theatre is the Epic Theatre” 33-43 and “Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting” 91-100

Week 3: Metatheatre of the Absurd: Performing Otherness and Silence in Witold Gombrowicz’s Ivona Princess of Burgundia

In this Shakespearian parody, Prince Philip, the heir to the throne, meets Ivona – a charmless and unattractive girl as he goes for a walk. Introduced to the court as the prince’s fiancée, Ivona’s mute and frightened presence exposes to each courtier his or her own blemishes, weakness, and vices. In a short time the court turns into a hothouse of monsters… In this class we shall continue with our exploration of the concepts of theatricality and performativity, illusion and reality, and spectatorship on stage and in the everyday life. We’ll also start engaging the concept of the theatre of the absurd. What do we mean by this label? And what does it mean to perform oneself? In what sense is gender something we perform – “an identity instituted through a stylised repetition of acts (Butler)? What do we mean by intersubjectivity? How do we mutually constitute each others as human beings?

Witold Gombrowicz, Princess Ivona, in Three Plays: Princess Ivona, The Marriage and Operetta, trans. Krystyna Griffith-Jones, Catherine Robins, and Louis Iribarne (London; New York: Marion Boyars, 1998).
Rene Girard, “Stereotypes of Persecution”; “Violence and Magic,” in his The Scapegoat. trans. Yvonne Freccero (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 12-23; 45-56.

See in class: Pashke and Sofia (video – excerpts. Dir. Karin Michalski (2003).

Week 4: Grotesque Theatricality: Ionesco’s The Chairs

Taking a cue from our exploration of Gombrowicz’s Ivona, we’ll focus on the “theatre of the absurd.” We’ll examine this form of theatre as a post-war phenomenon, and then engage Eugene Ionesco as one of its main representatives (along with Beckett, Genet, and Adamov). Focussing on Ionesco’s Chairs, we’ll explore this play’s dramaturgical strategies and its grotesquely extravagant images as ways to offer a social critique as well as to explore the human-subconscious in depth.

Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny,” Standard edition of Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. 1955 217-57 (excerpts)
Martin Esslin, “Eugene Ionesco: Theatre and Anti-Theatre,” in his The Theatre of the Absurd. Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1961. 125-194 (selections)

Week 5: Anti-Theatricality: Handke’s Insulting the Audience and Forced Entertainment

This session will look into Peter Handke’s play Insulting the Audience that has been described as anti-theatrical and the performance Spectacular of Forced Entertainment that also questions the notion of theatrical entertainment, spectacle and the voyeuristic role of the audience. We will explore the notion of anti-theatricality as a form of theatre about theatre and what does it say about the process of theatre making/watching? We will return to the question of communication in theatre and the role of the spectator to explore strategies of subverting audience’s expectations and anti-theatricality as a form of provocation in theatre.

Peter Handke, Insulting the Audience (any edition)
Helen Freshwater,Theatre & Audience, Palgrave, 2009 (“Playing with the Audience” pp. 62-77

See in class: Forced Entertainment, Spectacular (excerpt)

Week 6: Reading Week (no class)

Weeks 7-10: Preparation for Performance Lecture assessment