BA Music and Drama

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Performing England: Race, Class and the English Nation from 1945 to the present

Course unit fact file
Unit code DRAM33001
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes

Overview

This course explores changing configurations of race, class, and the English nation in post-war theatre, examining a specifically English, as opposed to British, theatre history. Focusing on race-class intersections, it places Global Majority and working-class theatre makers at the heart of the exploration of this revised English theatre record. In studying dramatic works that shuttle across geographic and socio-political economies of production, students will consider how ideas of race, class, and English nationhood have been constructed, consolidated, and challenged in these performance contexts. As the next generation of writers, makers, and educators, you will evaluate key historical moments which have highlighted England’s political and cultural identity, including (but not limited to): the contraction of the British Empire (1945 onwards), Acts of devolution in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland (1998), and the UK’s Brexit vote (2016). While England is the case study of this course, the interdisciplinary thinking and methods used here are transferable to a more general study of nationalism and culture, particularly in the context of other core imperial nations. We will work with an interdisciplinary set of anti-colonial and devolutionary sources when approaching these national themes, and these cut across political philosophy, cultural geography, history, and theatre studies.

Pre/co-requisites

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 

Aims

  • To explore theatre as a key cultural platform for debating the complexities of the national body politic, particularly for exploring the complexities of race and class in post-war England.  
  • To introduce students to a rich set of materials to approach national questions in performance, drawing on methodologies which are underpinned by decolonial and devolutionary thinking. 
  • To examine a range of regional and socio-economic contexts of theatre production from 1945 – present, including several companies that have been sidelined from the historical theatre record. 
  • To develop enhanced skills in researching and analysing historical objects and artefacts, including working with archival material from The John Rylands Library and Research Institute, The Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Resource Centre, Working Class Movement Library, and the People’s History Museum. 

Knowledge and understanding

  • Develop a nuanced understanding of a range of interdisciplinary critical sources and debates around race, class, and English nationhood in the 20th and 21st centuries.
  • Demonstrate awareness of the social, cultural, and political contexts in which dramatic texts are created, disseminated and can potentially act as agents of change.  
  • Analyse a range of historical and contemporary examples of drama in relation to their representations of race, class, and nation, 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 race, class, and nation are inscribed through performance and articulate these in both written and oral 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 forms. 
  • Locate and work with 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
Leadership
Advanced ability to exercise initiative and personal responsibility
Other
Ability to effectively adapt self-presentation to difference audiences/contexts, especially when communicating complex topics.

Assessment methods

Assessment task

Formative or Summative Weighting within unit (%)

Solo presentation

Formative n/a

Critical portfolio

Summative 40%

Research essay

Summative 60%

Feedback methods

Feedback methods

Formative or Summative

Presentation – In-class discussion

Formative

Portfolio and Research essay – Written

Summative

Portfolio and Research essay plans –

opportunity to discuss with course tutor

Formative

Recommended reading

  • Nadine Holdsworth, English Theatre and Social Abjection: A Divided Nation (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020) 
  • Claire Cochrane and Jo Robinson, The Methuen Drama Handbook to Theatre History and Historiography (London: Bloomsbury, 2019) 
  • Patrick Duggan and Victor Ukaegbu (eds.), Reverberations Across Small-Scale British Theatre: Politics, Aesthetics and Forms (Bristol: Intellect, 2013) 
  • Lisa Lowe, The Intimacies of Four Continents (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015) 
  • Simon Gikandi, Slavery and the Culture of Taste (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011) 
  • Paul Gilroy, Postcolonial Melancholia (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004) 
  • Juliette Singh, No Archive Will Restore You (Santa Barbara: Punctum Books, 2018) 
  • Ailsa Henderson and Richard Wyn-Jones, Englishness: The Political Force Transforming Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021) 
  • Tom Nairn, The Break-up of Britain: Crisis and Neo-Nationalism (London: Verso, 1977) 
  • Tom Nairn, The Enchanted Glass: Britain and its Monarchy (London: Verso, 1988) 

Indicative Plays / Performances 

N.B. In order to read across disciplines – and across historical periods – the course is organised thematically rather than chronologically. These thematic lenses offer different perspectives on Englishness and include English ruralism, England’s colonial history, direct engagements with English industrial heritage, changing constructions of the English working class, and sport. Case study plays/performances include: 

  • Pit Prop’s Brand of Freedom (1984) 
  • Jeremy Deller’s Battle of Orgreave (2001) 
  • Arnold Wesker’s Roots (1958) 
  • Testament’s Black Men Walking (2018) 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 66

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