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Political Theatre - Autumn Schedule

NB Due to Nadine missing the first week of this module through illness, week 3 on 'The Legacy of 1968' will be omitted from the programme
Week One: Political Theatres
Aims: This session will introduce the ideas, themes and issues we will explore during the course of the module. We will consider the relationship between culture and politics in order to discuss how and why theatre and performance can be powerful tools to respond to, intervene in and debate economic, political, and cultural forces. We will consider the nature of theatre as a public event, a conveyor of ideas, the various framing mechanisms that inform theatrical meaning and the potential of theatre to achieve political efficacy.
Week Two: Theatre as a Weapon: The Workers’ Theatre Movement
Aims: This session will discuss the impetus behind and impact of the Workers’ Theatre Movement (WTM). We will explore how theatre was employed as a weapon in the political struggles of the day and the political efficacy of ‘agitational propaganda’ - the particular brand of immediate, topical, flexible and portable theatre produced by the WTM and the reasons behind increasing shifts into more social realist forms. Discussions will focus on Newsboy and Waiting for Lefty.
Week Three: The Legacy of 1968
Aims: This session will explore the legacy of 1968 on theatre-making and the resurgence of a radical political agenda in British theatre. It will consider the impact of a climate of public political protest around Vietnam, civil and workers’ rights, identity politics and the events in Paris during May 1968. In particular it will focus on the work of Howard Brenton, John McGrath and 7:84 to discuss the theatrical treatment of and direct engagement with class-based activism and community politics that emerged from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s.
Week Four: Protest Performance/Performance as Protest
Aims: This session will explore the role and function of performance in recent political protest. Drawing inspiration from images and practices that have emerged with groups such as Reclaim the Streets, road protesters, guerrilla theatre artists, anti-war protesters and the anti-globalisation movement, we will discuss the significance and resonance of the performative act in contemporary protest culture.
Week Five: The Politics of Thatcherism: England in Question
Aims: This session will discuss the ways in which Marxist and Feminist approaches have led to an exploration of the interrelationship between socio-economic conditions, community relations, working class masculinity, racial tension and violence explored in Trevor Griffiths’ Oi for England and Bryony Lavery’s Goliath
Week Six – Reading Week
Week Seven: Voicing the Underclass
Aims: This session will explore how language and the voiced text has been used as a means of critiquing structures of knowledge and power in and through performance by giving poetic/heightened status to the ‘language of the streets’, regional dialects and by exploring different modes of language as a potential site of political resistance. Discussion will focus on the work of Jim Cartwright and Tony Harrison.
Week Eight: Trauma and Responsibility
Aims: This session will focus on recent non-realist plays including Sarah Kane’s Blasted and Caryl Churchill’s Far Away that broadly address questions of abuse, trauma, ethics and global responsibility in relation to various humanitarian crises that emerged during the late-twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. We will consider the complex relationships that emerge between form and content in these plays and ask questions about the political impact of poetic forms.
Week Nine: Political Agency in a Postmodern World
Aims: This session will focus on recent plays that provide a response to and critique of life in late Capitalist Britain. Focusing on themes and theatrical imagery drawn from Mark Ravenhill’s Some Explicit Polaroids and Gregory Burke’s Gagarin Way, we will discuss issues such as the impact of global capitalism, retreats from class-based activism, the commodification of relationships and the question of political agency in a postmodern world.
Week Ten: Cultures of Consumption and Commodity Exchange
Aims: This session will consider how theatre-makers and performance artists have engaged with anxieties over commodity fetishism and the commodification of all social exchanges and relationships. Drawing on diverse work including Michael Landy’s Breakdown, DV8’s Cost of Living and Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and Fucking, we will explore how these works critique aspects of materialism, consumerism and commodity exchange and ask probing questions about value and values in contemporary society.