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The dissertation of doom!

I frequently make reference to my dissertation on twitter (by which I mean I panic and complain a lot) and all the things related to it that only I find fascinating. More and more people have been asking about it and my advisor gave me the go-ahead to actually begin properly writing the thing (EEK!) so I thought I'd stick this info dump here, taken from an e-mail sent to one of my twitter friends who wanted some more details. I got carried away.

So my title is "Cruel Britannia: The Purposes and Strategies of Post-Thatcher Era British Political Theatre." It's mainly concentrating on the plays written during John Major's time as PM after Thatcher and up until the arrival of New Labour in 1997. There was a group of playwrights from this period who grew up under Thatcher's time as PM who came to be known under the mantle of "in-yer-face" theatre, where their work was characterised by its blatant aggressiveness and confrontational attitudes, including use of overt violence, sex, sexual violence, language, cruelty and nihilistic attitudes. The theatre was definitely political but not directly so. They never came out and said "Fuck Thatcher!" It was much more vague than that, drawing attention to the culture and civilization Thatcher's business attitudes that widened the class gap dramatically brought upon us. There's a sense of universality in what they write - it may seem far-fetched at first but in reality, the horrific events described in the plays came about because of the subjugation of the younger, working class generation by the older powers above, they're just taken to the extreme hyper-realist logical conclusion. I'm concentrating primarily on 5 plays:

Blasted - Sarah Kane (the first time I read this play I had to go lie down, I was so emotionally exhausted. Kane draws a direct connection between a woman being raped in a hotel room in Leeds to the outbreak of civil war. The play was inspired by the atrocities in Bosnia and the media's fascination with such events yet never really offering any help - this was also post-first Gulf war and the rise of the 24/7 news coverage and cable news network system, which practically awarded voyeurism, so Kane's just being more blatant about it. Tough read but I highly recommend her and her other work.)

Shopping and Fucking - Mark Ravenhill (Great name, eh? This is pretty much the defining play of the period & shares some similarities with Kane's work, but is much more concerned with the effect selfish capitalism and an obsession with materialism has had on our society, especially the young, who have become so apathetic and cold to the horrific things they are put through by the people who exploit them that they barely notice it. Their world has become simplified into nothing but cold, emotionless consumerism, i.e. shopping and fucking.)

Mojo - Jez Butterworth (For my money, Butterworth's the best playwright in UK right now. I'm a teeny bit obsessed with his latest work Jerusalem, which takes the issue of English national identity and blows it apart. His debut is like a Tarantino film set in 1950s rock 'n' roll London, written by Harold Pinter. This one heavily relies on the noir style but also tackles the issue of exploitation of the young, hard working generation by the intimidating, older and never on stage bosses.)

Ashes and Sand - Judy Upton (This one's about a group of violent, amoral working class school-girls who run riot in their seaside town, mugging people to raise money to go away and escape their aimless, opportunity free lives. It's very blatant about tackling how the working class have been ignored and pushed aside, leaving them with no prospects or opportunities. Upton was heavily anti-Thatcher, although she also expressed much dismay at New Labour and what she saw as a return to the status-quo. This one's interesting since there's one adult character who the girls manipulate for their own use, and he has some serious issues with women as well as a stiletto fetish!)

The Beauty Queen of Leenane Martin McDonagh (An old Irish woman lives with her spinster daughter and the pair have a twisted, hate driven yet co-dependent relationship that's fuelled by a desire to destroy one another. Like Mojo, it's big on the exploration of the exploited younger generation but it's also very interested in breaking down romanticised images of Ireland, something I can get heavily behind as a Scot who hates it when that happens here. This one harks back to Hollywood melodramas as well as psychological thrillers. Would love to see it performed but alas, probably won't happen.)
There's some great secondary reading out there too. Aleks Sierz is pretty much the authority on the "in-yer-face" movement. Rebecca D'Monte edited a fantastic collection of essays on political theatre of this period called "Cool Britannia?" which also has some fascinating pieces on national theatre of Scotland, Ireland & Wales, feminist writings (one where the writer defends Mamma Mia!) and minority playwrights, none of which I could sadly fit into my topic in my word count. Michael Billington's "State of the Nation" provides a fascinating insight into British theatre post-WW2 onwards, with historical, cultural and political context. It's essentially my dissertation bible. Unfortunately, since my topic is considered pretty new by English lit standards it can be hard to get further reading on certain texts. It does force me to get creative though.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Dec. 12th, 2011 04:58 am (UTC)
Back in high school I saw a production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane (at Trinity Rep in Providence, Rhode Island). As I recall my reaction was pretty much "WTF second act!", as it was a fairly substantial departure from the first half of the play.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


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