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Forms of Dissent in Contemporary Drama and Contemporary Theory

  • Rick Rylance
Part of the Insights book series (ISI)

Abstract

This chapter will examine some features of contemporary dramatic practice in the light of developments in contemporary literary theory. I do not, however, intend to examine the former from the standpoint of the interpretative practices of the. latter. I am, instead, interested in the two as related phenomena. My particular field of interest is dissent, and specifically the question of how dissident theorists and dramatists conceive of the relationship between text and audience. I wish to develop this in relation to, on the one hand, radical post-structuralist theory (which I take to be the major expression of recent critical dissent), and, on the other, work by three socialist dramatists Howard Barker, Howard Brenton and John McGrath. But I will begin by setting out my sense of the dominant direction of relevant theoretical arguments on the problem of how readers make meanings. I will then look at the dramatic practice of Barker and Brenton before, in the third section, turning to that of John McGrath.

Keywords

Literary Theory Sacred Grove Popular Theatre Interpretive Community Theatrical Metaphor 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Edward Said, ‘Opponents, Audiences, Constituencies, and Community’, Critical Inquiry, 9 (1982), 1–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    See, for instance, the essays collected in Jerome J. McGann, The Beauty of Inflections: Literary Investigations in Historical Method and Theory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Frank Kermode, Essays on Fiction 1971–82 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983), pp. 5–8.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For a succinct account see Martin Jay, ‘ The Morals of Genealogy: Or is there a Post-Structuralist Ethics?’, Cambridge Review, 110 (1989), 70–74.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Roland Barthes, ‘From Work to Text’, trans. Stephen Heath, reprinted in Debating Texts: A Reader in Twentieth-Century Literary Theory and Method, ed. Rick Rylance (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1987), p. 119.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See Stanley Fish, Is There A Text In This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities (London: Harvard University Press, 1982).Google Scholar
  7. For the argument against Said see Fish, Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), p. 212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 7.
    For a relevant analysis of cultural formations see Raymond Williams, Culture (London: Fontana, 1981), esp. Ch. 3.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    Peter Hall’s Diaries: The Story of a Theatrical Battle ,ed. John Goodwin (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1983), p. 347. Entry for 18 April 1978.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    Trevor Griffiths, ‘Countering Consent: An Interview with John Wyver’ in Ah! Mischief: The Writer and Television, ed. Frank Pike (London: Faber & Faber, 1982), p. 39.Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    John Bull, New British Political Dramatists (London: Methuen, 1984) is probably the standard work, though it interestingly pushes both Barker and John McGrath rather to the edges of its account.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. For a more diverse, if less analytical, coverage see Catherine Itzin, Stages in the Revolution: Political Theatre in Britain Since 1968 (London: Methuen, 1980).Google Scholar
  13. 11.
    Howard Barker, ‘The Small Discovery of Dignity’, in New Theatre Voices of the Seventies, ed. Simon Trussler (London: Methuen, 1981), pp. 195, 193 and 187.Google Scholar
  14. 12.
    Howard Barker, ‘49 Asides for a Tragic Theatre’, Guardian 10 February 1986, p. 11.Google Scholar
  15. 13.
    For example, Herbert Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969)Google Scholar
  16. Gabriel Cohn-Bendit and Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Obsolete Communism: The Left-Wing Alternative, trans. Arnold Pomerans (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969).Google Scholar
  17. 16.
    Howard Barker, The Last Supper: A New Testament (London: John Calder, 1988). The programme-text contained interleaved, unnumbered pages from which this quotation is taken.Google Scholar
  18. 19.
    Howard Brenton, ‘Showcase Spectacles’, 20/20, 20 May 1989, p. 26.Google Scholar
  19. 20.
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  22. 21.
    Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, translator not named and no copyright claimed (no place: Rebel Press/Aim Publications, 1987), pp. 88–9.Google Scholar
  23. 22.
    For general accounts see Robert Hewison, Too Much: Art and Society in the Sixties 1960–75 (London: Methuen, 1986)Google Scholar
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  25. For drama see Peter Ansorge, Disrupting the Spectacle: Five Years of Experimental Fringe Theatre in Britain (London: Pitman, 1975).Google Scholar
  26. 23.
    Howard Brenton, Weapons of Happiness (London: Methuen, 1976), p. 76.Google Scholar
  27. 24.
    Howard Brenton, ‘Author’s Production Note’, Christie in Love and Other Plays (London: Methuen, 1970), p. 4.Google Scholar
  28. 25.
    Howard Brenton, ‘Taking Liberties’, Marxism Today, December 1988, p. 35.Google Scholar
  29. 26.
    John Sutherland, Offensive Literature: Decensorship in Britain 1960–1982 (London: Junction Books, 1982), pp. 180–90, is a useful account.Google Scholar
  30. 27.
    E. P. Thompson, The Poverty of Theory (London: Merlin, 1978)Google Scholar
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  33. Raphael Samuel (ed.), People’s History and Socialist Theory (London: Routledge, 1981).Google Scholar
  34. 28.
    John McGrath, A Good Night Out — Popular Theatre: Audience, Class and Form (London: Methuen, 1981), p. 5. Subsequent references to this work will be found in brackets following quotation.Google Scholar
  35. 29.
    John McGrath, interviewed by Tony Mitchell, ‘Popular Theatre and the Changing Perspective of the Eighties’, New Theatre Quarterly, 1 (1985), 396.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 30.
    Eugène Van Erven, Radical People’s Theatre (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), p. 1.Google Scholar
  37. 31.
    John McGrath, The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil (London: Methuen, 1981);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  39. 32.
    For a stimulating recent account see Alan Sinfield, Literature, Politics and Culture in Postwar Britain (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), esp. Chs 4 and 12.Google Scholar
  40. 33.
    See Trevor Griffiths, ‘Transforming the Hush of Capitalism’, in New Theatre Voices of the Seventies (see note 11 above), p. 132.Google Scholar
  41. 35.
    André van Gyseghem, ‘British Theatre in the Thirties: An Autobiographical Record’ in Culture and Crisis in Britain in the Thirties, ed. Jon Clark, Margot Heinemann, David Marolies and Carole Snee (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1979)Google Scholar
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  43. Bert Hogenkamp, ‘The Worker’s Film Movement in Britain, 1929–39’ in Propaganda, Politics and Film 1918–45, ed. Nicholas Pronay and D. W. Spring (London: Methuen, 1982)Google Scholar
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  46. Richard Stourac and Kathleen McCreery, Theatre as a Weapon: Worker’s Theatre in the Soviet Union, Germany and Britain 1917–1934 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986)Google Scholar
  47. Colin Chambers, The Story of Unity Theatre (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1989).Google Scholar
  48. 36.
    See also Linda MacKenney, ‘The Strife of the Miner Genius’, Guardian, 18 June 1985, p. 9 on 7:84’s revival of the Scots miner-playwright Joe Corrie, and McGrath, ‘Popular Theatre’ (note 29 above), 390–91 on McGrath’s adaptation for the 1984–85 miner’s strike of Miles Malleson’s thirties play Six Men of Dorset.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Editorial Board, Lumìere Cooperative Press Ltd 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rick Rylance

There are no affiliations available

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