Street theatre

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Plays

Everyman (ed. Lester)

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Death summons a man to the reckoning of his life, and his journey towards judgement makes up the matter of one of the best surviving examples of morality plays. Everyman, the central character of the play, is not a person but a place-holder representing all of mankind.

As he converses with Knowledge, Good Deeds, Beauty and Goods, striving to secure a favourable account of his time on earth in order to reach everlasting life, a dramatic allegory is woven about the brevity of life and the necessity of living it well. The play is exceptional in its genre for this narrow focus on the last phase of life, and conveys its message with awe-inspiring seriousness.

The play is poised between the late medieval and early modern eras, recalling the medieval Biblical mystery cycles while anticipating the early modern period’s focus on the individual. It is uncertain whether the original text was ever performed in its time, as it may have been read as a religious treatise. However, a hugely popular revival at the beginning of the 20th century led to many more recent productions, often with a woman in the title role, proving that the play’s themes of mortality and spiritual pilgrimage have retained their power and resonance across the centuries.

Mankind

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The eponymous character of Mankind is a plain, honest farmer struggling against worldly and spiritual temptation in a morality play that is remarkable for its bawdy and energetic humour. The instructive sermon from the figure of Mercy which opens the play is soon interrupted by mocking Mischief, the three comedic Vices and the malicious devil Titivillus, who hijack the play and lead the audience through a whirl of lewd jokes, bawdy song and theatrical tricks which compromise the spectators as much as they do the character of Mankind. The competition for Mankind’s soul between Mischief and Mercy allows the play to move between riotous exuberance and careful theological discussion, showing by example and instruction the right way to live a Christian life.

Mundus et Infans

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The whole life of a man is staged in Mundus et Infans, as Child grows up into Manhood and succumbs to Folly in an exemplary morality play structure of transgression and redemption.

The protagonist’s beginning is as ‘Infans’ – or ‘child’ – he is renamed ‘Dalliance’, then ‘Wanton’ and then ‘Love-Lust-Liking’, before he matures into ‘Manhood’. Mundus – or ‘world’ – invests him with a knighthood, but he fails to uphold chivalric values and is led astray from Conscience by Folly, an engaging and mocking villain, into a life of arrogance and debauchery. Notable for the characters’ clearly differentiated idiolects, Mundus et Infans is a vibrant and emphatic staging of moral teaching, a map of human life and a meditation on time and decay. Mundus et Infans survives in an edition from 1522, and is likely to have been composed before 1520.

A term used loosely to denote performance outdoors but not in any defined venue. Looking back to the European tradition of commedia dell’arte and strolling players, modern street theatre is popular in aim and goes to its audience rather than the other way round. Its different manifestations depend on time and place; it can range from promenade theatre through a town or village to agitprop outside a factory or on a demonstration, linked up with a social or political campaign. It took on a particular meaning in the 1960s and 1970s with the rise of alternative theatre and was often related to community theatrev or attempts to revive carnival aspects of playmaking. Examples can be found in the work of groups such as the San Francisco Mime Troupe, Bread and Puppet Theater, Odin Teatret, Welfare State International, Red Ladder or Blue Blouse. The anti-globalization and environmental campaigns of the 1990s often used forms of street theatre in their protests.

from Colin Chambers, The Continuum Companion to Twentieth-Century Theatre, ed. Colin Chambers (London, 2002).