Skip to navigation | Skip to main content | Skip to footer

9/11 spurred thankful end to radical theatre

23 Jan 2012

A study of British contemporary theatre has found that the radicalism of the 1980s and 90s has been largely replaced by small c conservatism.

In a new book, Dr Jenny Hughes from The University of Manchester says that since 9/11, theatre has focused more on conserving life, rather than provoking radical thinking or revolutionary transformation.

Protest events, she says - which often draw on theatrical tactics - have also become less radical.

In her research she cites the 2003 anti war demonstration in London and Brian Haw’s longstanding campaign against the Iraq war in Westminster as non-ideological attempts to stop war.

Part of Dr Hughes’ research involved studying productions at the Tricycle and National Theatre in London, as well as community productions in North West England over five years.

She says: “The radical theatre of the 1980s and 90s, which could be described as ideologically driven, or deliberately alienating in its representation of violence, has become less prominent in our cultural scene.

“Since 9:11, theatre has been more about conserving life - about witnessing the terribly destructive effects of war and crisis on people’s worlds. It has in effect become more ‘conservative’ with a small c.

“This, I think, is a good thing: artists are asking us to think about the right to a secure life in far more egalitarian ways than politicians. They are asking us to think carefully about who people are and about how and who can change the world for the better.

“I think the most powerful acts can be those in which we sit still, which is what the civil rights movement taught us.

“Theatre, since 9/11, has come round to this.”

Dr Hughes’ research also looked at the role of performance in Northern Ireland and Iraq.

Provoked by the increasing use of theatre as a weapon of war, she explored published autobiographic accounts of undercover spies and video recordings of terrorist atrocities.

She added: “Since 9/11, performance has also been increasingly used outside the theatre for destructive purposes.

“Terrorists will rehearse, script and film their appalling acts in an effort to make them as frightening as possible.

“And covert agents in Northern Ireland, sometimes trained to the highest standards by actors, were able to continue their work unnoticed for years.”

The less radical, more conservative age of theatre:
Dr Hughes explains:
“Tricycle Theatre Productions like Tricycle Theatre’s Justifying War (2003) and Guantánamo (2004), asked those in power to respond to security threats in ways that are regulated by law.

“David Hare’s Stuff Happens (2004) dramatised the ‘goodness’ of the British government’s fated attempts to identify an evidence base for war in Iraq, versus the US administration’s gung ho attitudes.

“Mark Ravenill’s Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat (2008), which dramatises the breakdown of the world, leaves audiences with an ethical obligation to piece the world back together again rather than carry out any radical transformation.

“Arguably, this is very different from Ravenhill’s earlier, more confrontational ‘in yer face’ work.

“Community and educational theatre has also become more conservative. A series of educational theatre projects that tackled violent extremism, including Theatre Veritae’s Not in my name (2007) in the North West, emphasise the importance of loving and lawful attitudes towards angry and alienated young people in our communities who may be at risk of becoming attracted to extremism.”

Notes for editors

Performance in a time of terror is published by Manchester University Press.

Review copies are available.

For media enquires contact:

Mike Addelman
Press Officer
Faculty of Humanities
The University of Manchester
0161 275 0790
07717 881567
Michael.addelman@manchester.ac.uk