Peter Hall resigns from the RSC in order to head The National Theatre
The polish director Jerzy Grotowski brings his Laboratory Theatre to Britain (The Edinburgh Festival) with a production of ‘Acropolis’. This style of ‘poor theatre’ came to exemplify the spirit of 1968.
During the 1960s the prominence of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival grows and becomes the breeding ground and forum for new ideas.
Over the period from 1956 Arts Council funding grew so that by 1968 the future of British theatre was looking rosy. In 1956 the Arts Council had £820,000 at its disposal. In 1964 The return of a Labour Government saw this figure rise to£3,250,000 and over the next six years it grew to £9,300,000. This growth in funds was accompanied by government interest as a Ministry for the Arts was introduced. This indicates greater support for the Arts and thus more opportunities for playwrights to see their plays produced.
‘The spirit of 1968’
World events were beginning to shape domestic opinion and argument and were influencing a politically conscious theatre. 1968 became a year of protest beginning with the crushing of the Czech Revolution by Soviet forces. This was followed by a rising tide of student opposition to American intervention in Vietnam. 1968 became filled with the spirit of resistance to oppression. There became a feeling that the time was ripe for change and many emerging young theatre companies emerged through the desire to put human needs before economic imperatives. Thus ‘unofficial’ & ‘alternative’ theatre began to grow and there was a rise in the number of productions which were appearing at fringe festivals (e.g. Edinburgh). For example Quipu company created by writer David Halliwell and Ambiance under Ed Berman which moved around a lot until it transformed in 1972 into the Almost Free Theatre whose audiences were asked to pay only what they could afford.
Loosening of Censorship Laws
In 1963| Penguin Books was unsuccessfully prosecuted for their publication of DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover this led to a loosening of most forms of censorship which was generally thought to be at least passively encouraged by the Labour Government of 1964 – 1970. In 1968 (appropriately for the spirit of the year) Michael Foot successfully steered through Parliament a Private Member’s Bill which finally abolished the powers of the Lord Chamberlain to censor of even ban a play. Thus from 1968 onwards the theatre was subject only to the laws of the land rather than the whims of an archaic official to the royal household. For the most part this meant a freehand for playwrights. (Osborne had suffered under the old law and had had some of his work “amended”.)
This led to increased freedom in theatre which initially took the form of greater visual liberty; for example John Arden feature a female nude in ‘Harold Muggins’ this was particularly shocking because it was incidental, the nude had no major influence on the play or plot. ‘Squire Jonothan and His Unfortunate Treasure’ (also Arden) appeared in the same month by ambiance. This also featured a nude who is objectified by the main male character. This presented one of the play’s intentions, which was to put forward a feminist message, one of the earliest to appear in the theatre of the time.
1969 - 1973
This growth in freedom also manifested itself in a surge of musicals such as ‘Hair’ and ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ which presented a more ambiguous view of youth culture and sexuality. This era continued to see more sexually explicit material influenced by the emergence of the woman’s movement and gay & lesbian rights campaigns.
A Conservative Government is returned to power and bitter conflict with the Unions ensues.
1970 – 1973
There developed a trend of plays which were rooted in particular issues or events. (i.e. David Edgar’s Rent 1972) Political comment was also finding its way on to the stage under the