The History of Modern Drama
Started late 1800s to early 1900s
Ø Late 19th century movement. Psychological realism in portrayal of characters (Ibsen)
Ø Subject matter as close as possible with perceived realities of life.
Ø Playwright strove to make audience believe the reality of the situation.
Ø Development of and aid to realism
Ø Scenery, props, language etc. as near as possible to real life. “fourth wall”
Ø Reaction against naturalism
Ø Abandon attempt at realism in favour of impressionistic set and scenery
Ø Aim to capture “spirit” of life (Maurice Maeterlinck 1862-1949, Belgian)
Ø Dominated German theatre in 1920s
Ø Reaction to realism
Ø Tried to show there are psychological forces that lie beneath consciousness (Freud, Dali, influenced playwrights Ernst Toller, Karel Capek and Elmer Rice)
Ø Product of theatre in Russia after revolution in 1917
Ø Set is most important aspect- often a mechanical collage of steps, platforms and scaffolds which are supposed to symbolize dynamic qualities of the Russian way of life. (Vsevolod Meyerhold)
Theatre of Cruelty:
Ø Idea that theatre of myth and magic and spirit of Dionysus should be driving forces in theatre, not narrative and psychological realism.
Ø Explosive forces beneath civilized surface of a person’s mind could be cruel and violent.
Ø Developed in Germany in 1920s by Bertolt Brecht and Erwin Piscator
Ø Aim was to produce a play which depicted as simply as possible a procession of events, and produce them in a way that the audience were led to be detatched from proceedings, so they could consider the implications.
Ø “Alienation” devices used such as: stage hand and lighting lanterns in full view; each actor taking several parts; singer/narrator announcing events before they occur to avoid the distraction of suspense; auditorium lights sometimes left on.
Ø Appealed to reason more than feelings (opposite of naturalists)
Ø 1930s to 1950s
Ø Some thought British drama might move forward through return to vigorous use of verse. (T.S. Eliot, Christopher Fry, W.H. Auden)
Ø Ended with new wave.
Theatre of the Absurd:
Ø 1950s (Beckett’s Waiting for Godot)
Ø “Absurd” means “out of harmony”
Ø Playwrights wished to show ridiculousness of man’s struggles in a universe in which he lacks any purpose.
Ø Subject matter emphasized by form, without logical construction or coherent dialogue. (Harold Pinter, N.F. Simpson)
The New Wave:
Ø 1950s and 60s
Ø New breed of dramatists who changed direction of British theatre after success of John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger (until then, British plays mostly revivals of classics, musicals and revues)
Ø Show bitterness of real life or attack “Establishment”
Ø Contemptuously called “kitchen sink drama” by those who favoured theatre’s escapism.
Ø (John Arden, Donald Howarth, Ann Jellicoe, Harold Pinter, Arnold Wesker)
The Second Wave:
Ø 1960s to 1980s Second generation of new playwrights
Ø Extended innovations of first wave.
Ø Concerned with social and political problems
Ø Seize on topical events to turn into “relevant” drama
Ø (Edward Bond, David Mercer, Tom Stoppard, David Storey)
Ø Alternative to mainstream theatre.
Ø First at Edinburgh International festival- over past 50 years, a fringe developed, of amateurs, small professional touring groups, and university groups. More adventurous shows.
Ø Can be radical plays that protest the way things are
Ø Vital to growth of new ideas in subject matter and presentation style
King, Neil. Drama: The Modern Age c. 1985 Hulton Educational Press