Social and Political Theatre in 21st-Century Britain: Staging Crisis

Vicky Angelaki

DOI: 10.5040/9781474213202

ISBN: 9781474213165

In a context of financial crisis that has often produced a feeling of identity crisis for the individual, the theatre has provided a unifying forum, treating spectators as citizens. This book critically deals with representative plays and playwrights who have stood out in the UK and internationally in the post-recession era, delivering theatre that in the process of being truthful to the contemporary experience has also redefined theatrical form and content.

Built around a series of case-studies of seminal contemporary plays exploring issues of social and political crisis, the volume is augmented by interviews with UK and international directors, artistic directors and the playwrights whose work is examined. As well as considering UK stage productions, Angelaki analyses European, North American and Australian productions, of post-2000 plays by writers including: Caryl Churchill, Mike Bartlett, Dennis Kelly, Simon Stephens, Martin Crimp, debbie tucker green, Duncan Macmillan, Nick Payne and Lucy Prebble.

At the heart of the analysis and of the plays discussed is an appreciation of what interconnects artists and audiences, enabling the kind of mutual recognition that fosters the feeling of collectivity. As the book argues, this is the state whereby the theatre meets its social imperative by eradicating the distance between stage and spectator and creating a genuinely shared space of ideas and dialogue, taking on topics including the economy, materialism, debt culture, the environment, urban protest, social media and mental health. Social and Political Theatre in 21st-Century Britain demonstrates that such contemporary playwriting invests in and engenders moments of performative reciprocity and spirituality so as to present the audience with a cohesive collective experience.

‘In so far as theatre holds up the mirror to our society, this detailed examination of plays from writers concerned with the current crises of individual alienation ... makes the book a timely exercise. Morning Star

The very premise of the book – that a new theatrical discourse has developed, one that interrogates acts of spectatorship within an ethical frame – is its key strength: exciting, novel and intellectually robust. The topicality of the book is refreshing and very welcome. The commitment to an international perspective, rooted very much in the ambition to pursue and define how shared pre-occupations are articulated through live theatre, is also a positive aspect of this proposal. The book will be the first time many of the plays addressed will feature within a monograph of this substance. Incorporating interviews as a means of consolidating that original survey and analysis, this book promises to be a key text for years to come.’ – Mark Taylor-Batty, University of Leeds, UK

‘Angelaki (Univ. of Reading, UK) contends in her epilogue that “playwrighting is not only alive as a genre of urgent socially and politically motivated theatre, but also in fighting form.” This is an apt summation of her book, which argues that “theatres of crisis” are alive and well in 21st-century Britain. In penetrating examinations of selected works of Caryl Churchill, Mike Bartlett, Dennis Kelly, Duncan Macmillan, Nick Payne, Martin Crimp, Simon Stephens, debbie tucker green, and Lucy Prebble, Angelaki builds a potent case for these playwrights' theatrically powerful response to matters of critical local and global concern, including the fallout from the politics of neoliberalism, community relations, ethics, environment, mass consumption, and healthcare. She believes their plays invite spectators to active engagement with crisis, and she structures her own argument to provoke a similar response, allowing readers to consider lengthy excerpts from the plays as well as a panoply of critical and scholarly responses and relevant texts from a range of disciplines. Angelaki also investigates how particular production choices enhance the political urgency of the plays, and she explores how unorthodox staging helps audiences shed passivity and become agents for change. Good bibliography and index. Summing Up: Recommended.’ – CHOICE