Playing with the past: the politics of historiographic theatre

Haddow, Sam (2013) Playing with the past: the politics of historiographic theatre. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This thesis explores theatre's capacity to act as a medium for the 'production' of history. Proposing a theoretical model capable of accommodating this significantly underexplored function of contemporary drama, I adapt recent developments in the debates over textual historiography to the processes of theatrical production. Concurrent with this investigation, I examine certain examples of one of the most popular forms of contemporary historical theatre in Britain - the documentary strand known as 'verbatim' - and demonstrate the ways in which a lack of attention to theatre- historiography has allowed some uninformed and unstable historical methodologies to proliferate in theatrical discourses. Initially focussing upon the August Riots of 2011, I demonstrate the ways in which the political disingenuousness of key verbatim methodologies renders them unfit to engage productively with the demands of their surrounding context. Arguing the necessity for theatre to fulfil this societal function, I then consider alternative, politically conscious theatrical approaches to history.

Exploring the work of Edward Bond through a preliminary study of Saved and a chapter-length analysis of Lear, I address the topic of narrative historiography in theatre. Interrogating the trajectories of dramatic and performance texts over time, I demonstrate that theatre's propensity to respond to the conditions of its performing context complicates the notion of a single or 'stable' narrative. Thus, in conjunction with the theatrical and scholarly responses of Peter Brook and Jan Kott, I argue that the Shakespeare with whom Bond interacts in Lear is a product of the twentieth, rather than the seventeenth century. Focussing in on the theatrical 'event' as a site of historical production, I then examine the National Theatre's 2012 production of Howard Barker's Scenes from an Execution. Barker's plays employ an ambiguous and disruptive approach to history, designed to oppose the orthodoxies of the performing contexts into which they are brought into being. However, using this production as example, I show that this opposition is only possible if a historiographic consciousness is maintained at the level of performance. The studies of Bond and Playing with the Past: The Politics of Historiographic Theatre Barker outline a model for the production of 'historiographic theatre' - theatre that exploits its own unique capacities to produce and engage with history. I reassert the value of this kind of theatre by returning, in the 'Epilogue', to the August Riots, events that I propose are symptomatic of wider instabilities in contemporary socio-political climates. Historiographic theatre, I argue, has the capacity to point beyond these climates, providing a space in which these instabilities may be engaged.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Moran, J.
Robinson, J.K.
Keywords: Theatre, politics, history
Subjects: P Language and literature > PN Literature (General) > PN 80 Criticism
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of English
Item ID: 27967
Depositing User: Walsh, June
Date Deposited: 19 Dec 2014 09:55
Last Modified: 15 Dec 2017 12:50

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