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Five approaches to political theatre: Howard Brenton, David Hare, David Edgar, Roger Howard, Caryl Churchill and Howard Barker

posted on 2010-11-09, 15:07 authored by Martin H. Peacock
This thesis studies mainstream British political drama staged during the late 1960s, the 1970s and early 1980s. It considers the work of Howard Brenton, David Hare, David Edgar, Roger Howard, Caryl Churchill and Howard Barker through a close textual analysis of a carefully selected number of their plays. Throughout my concern has been to, firstly, consider the relationship between dramatic form and political content; secondly, the dynamic relationship between dramatic content and the cultural and political environment of Britain since 1968; and thirdly, the use of history as a means of addressing contemporary issues. The first chapter is a discussion of Christie in Love (196R), Revenge (1969), Hitler Dances (1972), Magnificence (1973) and The Churchill Play (1974). It charts Brenton's developing dramatic and political perspectives. With reference to the ideology of the French Situationists I question the effectiveness of an anarchic or agitational approach to political theatre. In the second chapter David Hare's Plenty (1978) and David Edgar's Maydays (1983) are discussed. Using the named plays as examples and with passing reference to John Osborne's Look Back in Anger (1956) I consider how Edgar and Hare attempt to utilize the realistic and naturalistic conventions of the bourgeois theatre to dramatize the personal and political experience of post-war British and European history. The third chapter discusses David Edgar's Destiny (1976) and Roger Howard's White Sea (1978) by using the theory and practice of Brecht's theatre as a starting point: it considers how Edgar and Howard attempt to focus the attention of the audience upon the political, rather than the personal, dynamics of historical and contemporary experience. In Chapter IV, through a detailed analysis of Caryl Churchill's Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (1976) and Roger Howard's Siege (1980), I examine the reasons for, and resulting problems of, the dramatization of historical subject matter. In particular I consider how language is used towards the end of translating an unfamiliar history for a contemporary audience. Chapter V considers Caryl Churchill's Cloud Nine and Top Girls in relation to the themes and dramatic approach incorporated in Churchill's earlier plays. The analysis of Cloud Nine (1979) suggests the limits and problems of a radical feminist approach to political theatre and concurrently questions the effectiveness of political satire. The analysis of Top Girls (1982) indicates how Churchill confronts and resolves many of those problems introduced by Cloud Nine and her earlier plays. This involves an assessment of her socialist feminist political perspective and how it is effectively translated into drama. Again, the dramatization of history, and in particular its relevance to the women's movement, acts as a thread which knits the discussion together. The final chapter discusses Howard Barker's approach to political theatre through detailed reference to The Power of the Dog (1984) and Victory (1983). I suggest that Barker not only challenges the socialist perspective of his political contemporaries but does so through a highly original and effective manipulation of dramatic form and language. With passing reference to the work of Brenton, Edgar, Hare, Churchill and Howard I attempt to demonstrate why I consider Barker to be a highly effective political dramatist. I conclude with a brief assessment of the effectiveness, success and impact of the political theatre and dramatists discussed.



  • Social Sciences and Humanities


  • English and Drama


Loughborough University of Technology

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© Martin Henry Peacock

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University of Technology.

EThOS Persistent ID



  • en


Michael Robinson ; Bernard Rattigan

Qualification name

  • PhD

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

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