Theatre as public discourse: a dialogic project
Weir, Antony John
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
This project aims to develop and explore questions of theatre as public discourse and the representation of England and Englishness in contemporary British theatre during the period 2000-2010. I present a dual focus in this practice-led research process, creating an original creative work, Albion Unbound, alongside an academic thesis. I describe the relationship between play and thesis as ‘dialogic’ with reference to the work of Mikhail Bakhtin. His ideas on language, subjectivity and authorship offer an insightful perspective upon the theory and practice of theatre-making, but Bakhtin himself makes a concerted claim for drama’s inherent monologism, generically incapable of developing genuine dialogic relations between its constituent voices. Chapter One explores the ‘case against drama’ and identifies the different senses of theatrical dialogism which emerge in critical response. Chapter Two considers Bakhtin’s work around carnival, the grotesque and the history of laughter, framed within a debate about the ‘politics of form’ in the theatrical representation of madness and mental illness. A key division emerges between political, discursive theatre and experimental theatre, as I question the boundaries of Bakhtin’s ideas. Chapter Three questions the nature of political theatre and its British traditions via Janelle Reinelt and Gerald Hewitt’s claim that David Edgar represents the ‘model’ political playwright engaged in theatre as ‘public discourse’. I focus upon three-thematically linked of Edgar’s plays, Destiny, Playing with Fire and Testing the Echo to engage questions of the ‘state-of-the-nation’ play and Edgar’s varied formal strategies employed in constructing his dramatic worlds and the political discourse he seeks with an audience. Chapter Four extends this debate to question the alleged ‘return of the political’ in new writing between 2000-2010 and specifically a body of plays which engage issues of nation and identity – those plays contemporaneous to Albion Unbound. Chapter Five provides a reflexive conclusion, elaborating upon the creative, collaborative process of making Albion Unbound, accounting for its successes and failures as a piece of contemporary theatre. I also reflect upon the relationship of theory and practice the project has developed, the dialogic relationship between thesis and play. Chapter Six is the play itself, as it was performed.
PhD in Drama