BA Music and Drama / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Gender and Sexuality on the 20th Century Stage

Unit code DRAM32021
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Drama
Available as a free choice unit? No


The course explores ways in which gender and sexuality have been represented, constructed and considered on stage throughout what historian Eric Hobsbawm calls ‘the short 20th century’, from the New Woman to queer performance in the 1990s. Students will be introduced to dramatic and theoretical works that defined, challenged and refined the performance of gender and sexuality through the century. The course covers a range of plays performed in Britain and America, some well-known and some now barely known, and considers the sociocultural and dramatic contexts that have influenced them. In studying well-known works alongside those lost from the mainstream, students will be asked to consider the extent to which ideas of gender and sexuality have been constructed, confirmed or challenged by these works. Influential theoretical and historical texts and other cultural works (e.g., films, art works, literature) from the period will be read alongside the plays with the intention of providing students with a context for the plays’ first production, reception, and subsequent impact.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Screen, Culture and Society DRAM20041 Pre-Requisite Optional
Practitioners in Context II: Contemporary Theatres DRAM20052 Pre-Requisite Optional
Practitioners in Context I: Modernism and the Historical Avant Garde DRAM20051 Pre-Requisite Optional

Pre-requisite units

Any L1 Drama Study or Practical core option


Any L2 Drama Study core option - Practitioners in Context 1; Practitioners in Context 2; Screen, Culture and Society




  • To critically engage with a range of plays and historical and cultural texts relating to the representation and construction of gender and sexuality
  • To develop a nuanced and layered understanding of the way in which gender roles have been constituted, confirmed and contested through dramatic presentation
  • To explore theatre as a forum for debate and role-modelling of socio-cultural change
  • To develop enhanced skills in researching and analysing historical objects and artefacts


Indicative syllabus (representative only – all of the topics listed below may not be covered every year):

Each week we will study two plays and a theoretical/historical reading.

Week 1 Course introduction

Week 2 ‘Independent Women’

Ellen Young (1916) – Gabrielle Enthoven and Edmund Goulding

The Green Hat (1925) – Michael Arlen

Week 3 ‘Living Differently’

Design for Living (1932) - Noel Coward

The Children’s Hour (1934) – Lillian Hellman

Week 4 ‘Punishing Deviance’

Night Must Fall (1931) – Emlyn Williams

The Mousetrap (1951) – Agatha Christie

Week 5 ‘Hard Times’

Men Should Weep (1947) Ena Lamont Stewart

A Taste of Honey (1957) - Shelagh Delaney

Week 6

Entertaining Mr Sloane (1964) – Joe Orton

The Boys in the Band (1968) Mart Crowley

Week 7 Activism

Mister X (1975) Roger Baker and Drew Griffiths for Gay Sweatshop

Twice Over (1982) Jackie Kay for Gay Sweatshop

Week 8 Solidarity?

Double Vision (1982) – devised by the Women’s Theatre Group

Top Girls (1982) Caryl Churchill

Week 9 Resistance

The Normal Heart (1985) - Larry Kramer

Angels in America (1992) - Tony Kushner

Week 10 Challenge

Nice Girls (1992) – Peter Cheeseman and the New Vic Theatre Company

Belle Reprieve (1991) – Lois Weaver, Peggy Shaw, Bette Bourne and Precious Pearl

Week 11


Week 12

Designs for Living (2001) – Claire Dowie and reflections on course.

Teaching and learning methods

This course is taught via:

  • Lectures
  • Small group discussions and exercises
  • Screenings as appropriate
  • Designated consultation hours

The course unit will be complemented by a Blackboard site that conforms to minimum requirements including a course handbook, weekly course breakdown, provision of reading material, reading lists. Supplementary material from workshops will be added as appropriate. The blackboard site will be prepared and available to students at least one week prior to the beginning of the first teaching week each semester.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Demonstrate a systematic understanding of critical sources and debates around gender and sexuality in the 20th century, as relevant to theatre studies
  • Demonstrate awareness of the contexts in which dramatic texts are created, disseminated and act as agents of change or reinforcing of norms
  • Engage critically with a range of historical and contemporary examples of drama in relation to their representations of gender and sexuality, including dramatic works that have not yet received substantial critical attention

Intellectual skills

  • Recognise the limits of knowledge, and its influence on analysis and interpretations, and to use this to develop sustained responses to materials as well as identify areas for on-going learning
  • Develop articulate, convincing arguments about the ways in which gender and sexuality are inscribed through performance and articulate these in both written and spoken work.
  • Develop a layered understanding of the ways in which the dissemination of cultural products determines behaviour and how challenging repertoires and canons can contest such behaviour
  • Synthesise and analyse a range of critical texts and research resources, both historical and contemporary, to make a case for re-introducing work to the repertoire

Practical skills

  • Communicate complex, multi-layered arguments and counter-arguments effectively, in written and verbal form
  • Locate multiple forms of documentation using museum, library and archival resources, including databases and finding aids
  • Manage own learning, including making use of advanced research scholarship and/or neglected primary sources in the area, at least some of which was identified independently

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Be able to communicate and work as a team, especially when providing peer feedback
  • demonstrate an advanced ability to self-manage learning – to ask questions independently, identify relevant research material, take initiative, make decisions, and develop independent and sustained responses to complex problems
  • demonstrate an understanding of ethical principles
  • gain practical experience of locating and handling historical materials

Employability skills

Analytical skills
¿ Advanced critical thinking, problem-solving and planning skills
Group/team working
¿ Working productively as part of a group and independently in learning environments that present complex and unpredictable challenges
¿ Advanced ability to exercise initiative and personal responsibility
Oral communication
¿ Ability to effectively adapt self-presentation to difference audiences/contexts, especially when communicating complex topics

Assessment methods

A solo presentation This is a formative piece presenting your early thinking on the work that you wish to reintroduce to the repertoire. After group feedback you will further develop your argument in the critical portfolio.




Critical portfolio




Research Essay





Feedback methods

Presentation - In class discussion


Portfolio and Research essay – Written


Portfolio and Research essay plans –  opportunity to discuss with course tutor



Recommended reading

Adrian Bingham, (2004) Gender, Modernity, and the Popular Press in Inter-War Britain.

 Oxford: Oxford University Press.

J.M Clum., Still Acting Gay, New York: St Martins Press, 2000
Tracy C Davis, ‘Questions for a Feminist Methodology in Theatre History.’, Interpreting the Theatrical Past, edited by Thomas Postlewait and Bruce McConachie, 59–81, Iowa City: University of Iowa Press. 1989

Jill Dolan, The Feminist Spectator as Critic. London: Palgrave, 2013

Richard Dyer, The Culture of Queers. London: Routledge, 2002

Maggie B Gale, West End Women. Women on the London Stage. London: Routledge, 1996

Micheline Wandor Carry on Understudies, London, Routledge

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Katharine Dorney Unit coordinator

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