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Social & Political Background

Political Theatre 1956 - present


Death of Stalin signals hopes around Europe for the end to the Cold War


Suez Crisis. Britain loses its attempt to regain control of the Suez canal after the Egyptian government nationalise the Canal and claim control of both ends. The loss meant not only restrictions to an important trade route but highlighted that Britain was no longer the world power that it had once been. Especially as now it no longer control an Empire.

Hungarian Uprising. The Red Army crushes the rebellion in Hungary against communist rule. This happens under the cover of the Suez Crisis meaning the events in Egypt allow this smaller event to go virtually unnoticed. However this indicates that the Cold war is not over and that the Communist force was crushing democracy and freedom.

Brecht’s own theatre company The Berliner Ensemble arrive in London another sign of changing times as his innovative ideas are seen for the first time in the Capital.

John Osborne’s ‘Look Back in Anger’ is shown at the Royal Court. The play echoes the social background and indicates changing times in British Theatre. The play was original and surprising in 1956 even though it seems far less shocking by today’s standards. The play was not so much revolutionary as that it paved the way for others. Osborne opened the door for more challenging playwrights such as Arnold Wesker and John Arden to follow behind. Osborne’s structure remained in 3 act naturalist confines but was startlingly fresh in its subject matter.


Peter Hall takes over as Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company


The Cuban Missile Crisis perhaps the closest the world has ever come to nuclear war. The theatre echoed the world’s fears as many plays were produced which echoed the clear anti war message that was felt around the world.

David Warner plays Hamlet in Peter Hall’s production. He “somehow pinned down the drifting, ambiguously angry mood of a generation”  (Simon Trussler ‘British Theatre’).  This quotation helps to indicate the mood of the era that Osborne was writing about.

Peter Hall secures Arts Council subsidy for the RSC though finances remain tight.

TV sees a boom in satirical programmes such as ‘That Was The Week That Was’. The programme cheerfully breached many of the po-faced rules which forbade near the knuckle references to politics religion and sex. The challenge to the Establishment was becoming clearer.


The National Theatre is created.


RSC run Theatre of Cruelty season directed by Charles Marowitz working with Peter Brook. This leads to the controversial ‘Marat Sade’, another sign of the changing times and new startling ideas that were emerging in Theatre. It indicated an influx of foreign ideas and changes to style.  

This in turn led to a development in movement based, experimental theatre over the next decade. Britain played host to a variety of Companies and Circus Acts (Theatre du Soleil & Grand Magic Circus) which influenced changes in style and approach to theatre.

1964 - 1975

Peter Daubeny at The Aldwych

The growth of funds into the Arts meant that theatre was opening its doors to a wider variety of plays, playwrights and ideas; it was becoming less insular as had been the tradition. Between 1964 & 1975 Peter Daubney was able to occupy the Aldwych each spring with his World Theatre Seasons. The annual feasts of international drama helped to broaden the minds of the British theatre people.

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