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Immigration and Contemporary British Theater

Finding a Home on the Stage

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Victoria Sams

Immigration and Contemporary British Theater: Finding a Home on the Stage analyzes how contemporary British theater has responded to post-war immigration to the United Kingdom through its depictions of home and domestic life. Bridging literary analysis, theater history, and migration studies, the book examines the ways that immigration to the United Kingdom has reshaped British theatrical culture and inspired new conceptions of Britishness and of communal belonging. Furthermore, it examines how immigrant theater artists from widely varying backgrounds (geographical, educational, cultural) have worked within and around existing theatrical institutions in Britain.
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The cover of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s Imagining the New Britain (2001) features a picture of Queen Elizabeth digitally altered to give her darker skin. Fast forward ten years to the cover of Aleks Sierz’s Rewriting the Nation: British Theatre Today (2011), and the cover image is a young Black soccer fan with a flag of St. George painted on his face. Two visual icons of English, if not British, nationalism fused with the visual markers of “newness” for Britain. Both covers signal that what is “new” about Britain are the visible markers of a cultural hybridity, which returns us to the dueling narratives of British immigration history.

Alibhai-Brown’s book contains the collected reflections of a thoughtful journalist on multiculturalism in Britain as she and others have defined it. A regular columnist for the Independent newspaper in London at the time of her book’s publication, Alibhai-Brown has since become memoirist and performer of her own immigrant history in her stage play Nowhere to Belong: Tales of An Extravagant Stranger, which toured in 2008. Of Muslim Indian background, born and raised and university educated in Uganda, citizen and resident since the early 1970s in Britain, Alibhai-Brown is simultaneously critic, champion, and embodiment of the successes of British multiculturalism. While she invokes the arrival of the Windrush as a watershed moment for Britain, she characterizes it not as an originary moment for immigration, but instead as a signal of a transformation of the politics of postcolonial identity in Britain. Alibhai-Brown ironically refers...

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