History in the hands of the Contemporary Playwright 2000-2015: a feminist critique of normative historiography in British theatre.
Fraser, Rebecca Amy
Date: 30 June 2017
University of Exeter
PhD in Drama
Between 2000 and 2015 twelve of the UK’s leading producing theatres premiered twenty three plays by British playwrights where the action was set between 1882-1928. This historical period is significant; in 1882 the Married Women’s Property Act was passed and in 1928 equal enfranchisement for men and women was granted in the United ...
Between 2000 and 2015 twelve of the UK’s leading producing theatres premiered twenty three plays by British playwrights where the action was set between 1882-1928. This historical period is significant; in 1882 the Married Women’s Property Act was passed and in 1928 equal enfranchisement for men and women was granted in the United Kingdom, hence, the historical period traces a shift in women’s rights from property ownership to the vote. This thesis investigates narratives within these plays and explores the development of a normative historiography that is drawn on, but predominantly left unquestioned, by playwrights as Britain’s past is reimagined. It is this normative historiography, operating in a theatrical context, which the thesis problematises and interrogates through the lens of contemporary British playwriting. This lens facilitates an exploration of the manner in which the representation of the past mirrors and/or challenges current feminist discourse and considers the cultural implications of the structures and techniques employed to retell women their history through this medium. Scholarship from the fields of academic and popular feminism, theatre studies, history and historiography shape the analytical framework of the thesis. Drawing on literature from these fields, this study conducts historically informed performance analysis that seeks to discover the sociocultural work done by contemporary plays that engage with the past. Archives of thirty British theatres have been surveyed to produce a database of plays that fall within the project boundaries; working with this data, trends and recurring themes have been identified, and subsequently chapters have been shaped to investigate dramaturgical questions in response to the field research. The dramaturgical questions explore: recurring modes of representation in plays that reimagine World War One; the representation of opposition in depictions of historical conflict; the retelling of specific historical narratives in relation to the challenge of staging ideas; and the recurrence of the heteronormative romantic plot. This thesis argues that when the playwright interrogates the normative dramaturgies and tropes they have inherited for historical representation, they assumes the role of historiographer and from this self-reflexive position recurring theatrical conventions for retelling the past are challenged. This perspective shifts attention beyond central patriarchal narratives of the past and facilitates engagement with the multiple avenues of enquiry regarding a historical moment. Engagement with the work of playwrights who foreground a historiographic awareness in their process, further illuminates the dialogue between representations of women in a historical context and contemporary feminist debate.
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