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Social & Political Background - page 3 / 3





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guise of comedy, works such as Albert Hunt’s ‘John Ford’s Cuban Missile Crisis’ illustrated that strong political points could be made thought the medium of fast moving, debunking comedy.

Theatre companies began to emerge whose intention was to challenge The Establishment. John Mcgrath began 7:84 in the early seventies. The company indicated its oppositional stance by taking its name from the statistic that ‘7% of the population own 84% of the wealth’. The company split into an English and a Scottish version in 1973 and while the English company collapsed due to Arts Council cut backs in the 1980s the Scottish faction went on to great success. These Arts council cut backs were however often used to eliminate politically conscious companies which perhaps posed a threat to the government in terms of public opinion. The Scottish wing of 7:84 was only allowed to continue once it had disposed of its agitator & founder, Mcgrath. Though its success was drawn from the fact that conservative voters were dwindling in Scotland despite landslide victories South of the border.


Edward Heath is exposed for trying to make political capital from the miner’s strike.

The anger towards government leads to theatre groups who are becoming more political than aesthetic and theatre begins to become a forum for opposition to Government. Most of these groups would fall under the heading of ‘Agit Prop’ (see glossary). Smaller theatre groups took their shows to the factory gates, striker’s & union meetings, and workingmen’s clubs and pubs. (i.e. Red Ladder, Belt and Braces & General Will)

Throughout the 70s there was a growth in Community theatre. This stemmed from more rural communities tending to be more conservative (with a small c), insulated and tightly knit thus theatre which was locally based and provided an intimate knowledge of an areas special history and problems became popular. This provided collective creation with a sense of nostalgia, which still retained an abrasive edge of social criticism. This opened theatre up to even the humblest of village halls.  

David Hare (whose plays have revealed the angst ridden soul of the British middle classes whilst remaining essentially and covertly political) joins forces with Gaskill, max Stafford-Clark and David Aukin to form Joint Stock Company. New company which employed workshopping methods to encourage the actors to build their own role. This muted the role of the director somewhat. Caryl Churchill’s ‘Cloud Nine’, which deals with the politics of sexuality, was one such play to emerge from this new method.


Despite a move towards the collective, individual producers were still making their mark.

Howard Brenton moves to the National and produces ‘Weapons of Happiness’


Brenton produces ‘The Romans in Britain’ which features a highly graphic though incidental homosexual rape scene and secures his reputation as “a rough edged, uncompromising writer always prepared to declare his continuing commitment to the left ” (Trussler).

This view is furthered in ‘A Short Sharp Shock!’ which snipes at Thatcherite values.

1980 -

Caryl Churchill emerges (see photocopied sheet)

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