Living through the benign nightmares? (Re)contextualising in-yer-face theatre
Critics frequently observe that the direction in which the British theatrical tradition developed over the course of the twentieth century bears little semblance to the continental proliferation of avant-garde aesthetics. British theatre practitioners and theoreticians proved to be more conservative than their counterparts from mainland Europe, who devoted themselves to formal experimentation. While the avant-garde artists often looked for ways of communicating their message on a subliminal or emotional level by, as Innes points out, experimenting with dream states and rituals (Innes 1993: 3), English and Irish playwrights favoured the rational approach. It is, therefore, almost natural that out of all the continental artists it was Henrik Ibsen and Bertolt Brecht that made the most noticeable and long-lasting impact on the British theatrical tradition (Innes 2002: 5).1 While the former served as a major inspiration for George Bernard Shaw, the father of English dramatic realism, the latter developed the concept of the epic theatre which was later employed and recycled by playwrights such as John McGrath, John Arden and Caryl Churchill. The conventions of realism and epic theatre have become so deeply ingrained that, save for a handful of artists whose oeuvre is subsumed under the Theatre of the Absurd label, few British playwrights have actually tried to break with them or challenge them. The cold, rational approach aimed at initiating social debate dominated and the works of those who dared swim against the mainstream were met with bafflement and disapproval.
Such was the case...
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