Jen Harvie (Queen Mary University of London), “A Sense of Place: Staging Psychogeographies of the UK Housing Crisis”
The UK housing crisis goes back to 1980, when Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher gave social housing tenants the ‘Right to Buy’ their homes at a discount. Millions of social homes were sold off but only a fraction were replaced, driving more people into homelessness and private rental housing. Meanwhile, neoliberal governance meant the uncontrolled private rental market saw prices rise exponentially. More people were driven into not only private renting, but awful conditions. Recent and current Conservative governments have extended the Right to Buy scheme even as their austerity policies have shrunk social welfare support. The least well off are becoming even worse off.
In this paper, I examine how recent British theatre has articulated the impact of the UK housing crisis, especially in London, and especially for young adults. I examine Sh!t Theatre’s Letters to Windsor House (2016), focused on two friends in unsafe, insecure, overpriced housing in a poor but rapidly gentrifying north London neighbourhood, and Home, a verbatim production created by Nadia Fall,set in a hostel for homeless young people and presented in 2013 at the National Theatre’s temporary Shed Theatre. Where the story of ‘housing crisis’ is often told through figures and graphs quantitatively, I explore how Letters to Windsor House and Home articulate the qualitative fallout of the crisis; its emotional, interpersonal, and also psycho-spatial impacts; and its exacerbation of insecurity, precarity, and vulnerability. I explore how these plays narrate the housing crisis but also convey its psycho-social impacts spatially and emotionally, in what I call – adapting a term from Situationism – psychogeographic dramaturgy. While acknowledging that narratives of housing crisis are important, I argue that dramaturgical practices which convey – and critical practices which focus on – the feelings, psychosocial impacts, and spatial relations of the crisis are especially important. The psychogeography of this theatre helps articulate the spatiality of the housing crisis in contemporary neoliberal urban British life and, especially, how that feels.
Prudhon, Deborah (Université d’Aix-Marseille), “Punchdrunk’s Kabeiroi (2017): Taking Immersive Theatre to the Streets”
Punchdrunk is often considered as the “pioneer” within the field of immersive theatre, which “[places] the audience at the heart of the work” (Josephine Machon) and abolishes the distinction between stage and auditorium to merge them into one single space.
Founded by Felix Barrett in 2000, the British company is known for creating detailed theatrical worlds which inhabit the space of disused buildings in which the audience is invited to roam free.
Whilst most of Punchdrunk’s productions maintain a separation between the real world and the dramatic world by staying within the walls of an abandoned building, Kabeiroi (2017) opens up to the busy streets of London and immerses the participants in real life. This ambulatory theatrical exploration superimposes the world of fiction onto the geography of the city, weaving a web of complex interactions between the two.
This up-to-six-hour adventure for two people recreates Jason and the Argonauts’ initiation into a mystery cult and, as with the Greek myth, claims a transformative value. The two participants are for instance repeatedly invited to observe the London crowds or try to make eye contact with strangers. Kabeiroi thus explores the in-between position of the “audience”: neither completely part of the crowd, nor exactly abstracted from it. The show instils a difference in the way they perceive urban life and the familiar streets of Bloomsbury and central London.
How does Kabeiroi interact with the city it invades? To what extent does the urban space inform the performance and, conversely, does the immediate reality impact the participant’s experience and immersive feeling?
Using concepts such as performance walks (Tomlin), “Host” and “Ghost” (Cliff McLucas), frames (Goffman) and atopy (Barthes), this paper will explore the way Kabeiroi blurs the boundaries between street and stage, participants, performers and passers-by, reality and fiction.
Radak, Tamara (University of Vienna), “(Post)digital Co-Presence in Digitally Immersive Theatre”
While immersive theatre in its various forms – ranging from site-specific in situ performances to multimedia and online experiences – is not a recent phenomenon, digitally immersive performances have gained traction in times of COVID-related closures of the physical sites at which theatres are located. Drawing on recent work on digital, lockdown, and “v_i_r_a_l_” theatre (Mezzocchi; Fuchs; Liedke and Pietrzak-Franger) as well as theories of immersive theatre from Machon to Machamer and Lavender, this paper focuses on two productions involving audience engagement staged during 2020 and 2021 as case studies indicative of a larger trend in online theatre: Dead Centre’s To Be a Machine (1.0), which was broadcast live from Project Arts Centre in Dublin to remote audiences, involving both pre-recorded audience reactions and real-time opportunities of engaging with the performance via the chat function and Big Telly’s hybrid performance of Department Story, in which remote audience members had the option to influence certain aspects of the onsite performance unfolding in real-time via the chat function or the control panel. The paper will investigate the question to what extent the change in performance space – with the semi-public space of the theatre suddenly encroaching into the private, domestic spaces and lives of audience members – impinges on the immersivity of these and similar productions and how these new and still developing forms of interactive performances necessitate a reconsideration of central parameters of theatre and performance, such as liveness and (post)digital co-presence.
Forlini, Francesca (Roma Tre University), “Performing the city – space, movement and memory in O Ben’groes at Droed Amser”
A city is never just a place, especially in the context of a narrative. Cities are, in the words of Doreen Massey, “the intersections of multiple narratives” and they always participate – willingly and consciously, or not – in fostering a reflection on the interaction between space and its creative subject, individual and society (Massey 1999, 165). In considering some of the aspects of site that are brought to the site-specific process, this paper explores how contemporary playwrights and theatre-makers are attempting to renegotiate patterns of intraurban movement, enacting new ideological approaches to space and memory. My focus is on O Ben’Groes at Droed Amser by Karen Owen, a Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru and National Theatre Wales production created in collaboration with BBC Cymru Wales and BBC Arts in 2020, as part of Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru’s new programme in response to the coronavirus emergency and the challenge of creating original dramatic work during lockdown. By allowing virtual audiences to join author and poet Karen Owen on a bus journey from her home and the street where she grew up to Bangor city centre, the production articulated the experience of the city in terms of individual and collective memory, bringing together issues of performance, representation, history and heritage to reveal alternative layers to the reality of the urban landscape. Memory, I argue, emerged from this production as a performative construct, embedded in landscape and yet open to renegotiation through a range of present relationships to landscape. In addition to this, the production also offered an alternative to the privileged figure of the walker, simultaneously performing a version of nostalgia and a subversion of codified patterns of movement.
Doreen, Massey, John Allen, and Philip Sarre. Human Geography Today. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1999.
Mike, Pearson, and Michael Shanks. Theatre/Archaeology. London: Routledge, 2001.
Herold-Zanker, Katharina (University of Regensburg), “Getting the tribe together: Theatres as Urban Spaces for Female Voices”
As the global #metoo movement gathered momentum, a number of all-female performance groups and research collectives revived urban spaces in service of female empowerment. In commemoration of the centenary of the suffragist movement recent research redressed the relationship between gender and space in feminist site-specific performance work (Victoria Bianchi, 2015). Research by Anne-Julia Zwierlein reaches back even further to document female public lectures as ways of reclaiming the public sphere in Victorian London. My talk will extend the discussion of (re-)claiming the city and its theatres through feminist performance. Reviewing Don Mitchell’s work (2003), highlighting both the problems and potential of public spaces as the sites of emancipatory claim-making and Judith Butler’s evolution of gendered ‘acting’ (1988), this talk will pay particular attention to the way in which theatres operate as gendered urban spaces. How can theatres be focal points for female utterance? How do these urban institutions limit or enable female voices to be heard? Why might the West End still be the ‘end of feminist performance’ in 2021? I will consider Ella Hickson’s acclaimed play ‘The Writer’ (2018) alongside work by feminist activist groups: playwright Jennifer Tuckett and the Sphinx Company (1973; 2018/2019), award-winning activist theatre company Power Play (2018-21) and Accalia Arts (2019/2020), a group of women creatives hosting a mix of musical, one-woman comedy shows often performed in small local venues across South-East London. The talk will investigate how institutionalised dramatic texts, such as Hickson’s play, can establish a dialogue with performative feminist street activism to reform British theatrical industries from the in- and outside. This dialogue, I argue, enables feminist networks to reshape theatrical urban cityscapes across ethnic and generic boundaries.
Colpitts, Andy (Cornell University), “Place on Parade: Genre, Politics, and Puppets”
The American Parade has been investigated in terms of how it transforms urban streets into a place of memory where collective memory and identity are consolidated along lines of class, race, ethnicity and gender (Mary Ryan, 1989; Joseph Roach, 1996). However, the role of the rural parade has heretofore seen little critical analysis. Since any conception of the urban relies on the rural as a foil, we may wonder how the American Parade, existing in both urban and rural landscapes, promotes and challenges the unchecked expansion of cosmopolitan culture and dominant ideology.This paper examines how the parade genre functions as a civic ritual that seeks to unite individuals through nationalism and consumerism, yet may paradoxically become a stage for political dissent. By juxtaposing performances from the Bread & Puppet Theatre at the Fourth of July Celebration in the rural town of Cabot, Vermont and Tony Sarg’s “upside-down marionettes” in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, I theorize how central conventions of the parade genre (synesthetic spectatorship, flow, and surplus) work to inculcate the spectator with a sense of group identity. Specifically, through the figure of the puppet we can understand how the American parade engenders group identity among spectators. However, such didactic action—weaving together the sensory and the emotional, the personal and the political—is always unfinished. This paper asks: given the nationalist and colonialist underpinnings of both Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July, (how) can we make ethical parades in a multi-racial and multi-ethnic society? I argue that the same genre conventions which promote an uncritical spectatorship of the parade (and thus cultural hegemony) lay the foundation for political dissent, via a process that José Muñoz calls disidentification, to propose (and at times demand or enact) an alternative to this dominant ideology.
Schwanecke, Christine (University of Graz), “Criticising Capitalism in the City and on the Stage: The city street movement ‘Occupy Wall Street’ and Tim Price’s Protest Song”
The proposed paper aims at contributing to the 2022 CDE conference’s concern of “how theatre and the city are productively embroiled and […] how contemporary Anglophone theatre has redefined […] [and blurred] borders between centre and periphery, street and stage, performer and spectator.” (CfP) I will focus on Tim Price’s Protest Song (2014), which was commissioned by the National Theatre and was staged there in 2014. Setting the play on London streets, in front of the iconic urban space of St. Paul’s Cathedral, starring a homeless main character, and transgressing the boundaries between theatrical and actual spaces, Price arguably questions conventional urban and social binaries as well as economic and political hierarchies. With the help of the experimental and critical strategies, he examines the city movement of “Occupy Wall Street” and its repercussions. I will analyse these strategies and ask how they represent, perform, question, and assess urbanity, city street activism, and the financial sector as it is symbolised by the (urban and mental) spaces of Wall Street and London Stock Exchange. I will furthermore ask how Price’s strategies reframe social inequality and turbo capitalism as well as to what extent they redefine the borders between centre and periphery, street and stage, performer and spectator.
Sedgman, Kristy (University of Bristol), “Civilising the City, the Oldest Theatre in Europe, and Other Lies for Divided Times”
This presentation takes as its starting point Bristol Old Vic, which has variously been claimed to be the oldest/longest-running/longest continuously-running theatre in the UK, in Europe, or in the English-speaking world.
Of course, these labels are contestable. Isn’t Hvar Public Theatre the oldest theatre in Europe, and London’s Drury Lane the oldest in the UK? Or is that the Theatre Royal in Yorkshire, which recently claimed to be the ‘oldest theatre still in its original form in Britain’? And given the many times (over its 252-year history) that Bristol Old Vic has temporarily closed its doors, can it really be said to have been operating ‘continuously’? Rather than trying to answer these questions, this presentation suggests that when it comes to branding, historical truth seems to be less important than a good story. Zooming in on my British Academy audience-research into Bristol Old Vic, I first consider how ‘prestigious’ theatres work to position themselves as valuable within their city; how cities themselves then accrue value through that association; and, finally, how these battles for cultural value unhelpfully pit theatres across Europe in divisive competition with one another. I then zoom out to consider this specific problem in its broader sociopolitical context. Discussing my forthcoming book, On Being Unreasonable (Faber 2022), which examines the inequities of behaviour-policing in increasingly densely populated urban areas, I argue that this siloing of arts institutions as a rarified space apart from city life has damaged the potential for theatre to act as the vital ‘third places’ they should be.
I conclude by proposing that possibilities for ‘collective effervescence’ – both within theatre buildings and on the streets – have harmfully been suppressed through white supremacist colonial campaigns and anti-working-class movements, which prioritized respectable individualism over true civic engagement. Theatre has historically been used as a tool to ‘civilise’ the city; now, it is increasingly becoming a tool for citizens to fight back. By restoring collective joy and political resistance back to urban life, theatre can offer a valuable weapon in the fight against contemporary divisions and distrust.
Veloso, Verônica (Universidade de São Paulo), Francis Wilker (Universidade Federal do Ceará), and Glauber Coradesqui (Instituto Federal Fluminense), “Walking around cities – traveling, contemplating and discovering spaces”
The proposal is to invite participants to a sensitive experience with the city along the approximately 3,7 Km between Cité Universitaire and Sorbonne. We will follow the streets and together let’s observe the city and invent other ways of interacting with it. When we pay attention to the path and the act of walking, the focus on moving from place to place stops being about where we are going to and starts to become the journey itself. Walking in a non-functional way turns walking into artistic, aesthetic and political action.
Credits & Cast
• Conception and Dramaturgy: Francis Wilker and Verônica Veloso
• Associate Researcher: Glauber Coradesqui
• Guest Performer: Rob Borges
• Local Production Assistant: Élise Rale
• Sound editing: Ierê Papá
• Performers in audio: Ines Bushatsky, Glauber Coradesqui, Paula Klein and Lincoln Antonio (piano)
• Translator: Christopher Mack
• Acknowledgements: Andrei Bessa, Beethoven Cavalcante and Coletivo Teatro Dodecafônico.
Knittelfelder, Elisabeth (University of Graz), “‘Refugees Welcome’: Necrocapitalism and rethinking (B)order in the Migration Performances The Jungle (2017), Lampedusa (2015), and The Walk (2021)”
Borders and refugee camps are necropolitical ‘zones of nonbeing’, actively differentiating between individuals in terms of social class, nationality, and ethnicity. Étienne Balibar speaks of a “a world apartheid”, “a dual regime for the circulation of individuals” which discriminates between national and alien, “between those who ‘circulate capital’ and those ‘whom capital circulates’”. The English Channel, the Mediterranean Sea, the ‘Balkan Route’ become contested landscapes. On the border of these zones, refugee camps become what Achille Mbembe calls ‘death-worlds’, in which asylum seekers, without the “world right to circulate unhindered”, are not only living on a border, but are becoming and being a border themselves. Refugee camps are not only informal cityscapes, they are spaces of ontological negation, an almost home, or as Balibar sates, “a home in which to live a life which is a waiting to-live, a non-life”. This paper draws on the works by Achille Mbembe, Frantz Fanon, Étienne Balibar, and Christina Sharpe to investigate representations of contested border sites, the formation of refugee identities, and migration as life-in-crisis in the 2017 play The Jungle by Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson, the ensuing 2021 travelling festival The Walk, a performative journey from Cape Town to Calais of the refugee girl Little Amal, a giant puppet created by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, and the 2015 play Lampedusa by Anders Lustgarten in order to rethink global urbanity, imperialism, and necrocapitalism in current states of crisis. In addition to border epistemologies and considerations of identities rendered by necropower, this paper explores mobility and accessibility in regard to the (informal) city as performance space which allows for experiencing art as a shared, public, open access encounter as well as theatre as immersive practice and a means to transcend borders, politics, and language and move towards involvement in a shared humanity.
Moyer, Gabrielle (Stanford University), “Ecce Homo or Theater of the Unhoused”
“The body, in my view, is where we encounter a range of perspectives that may or may not be our own. How I am encountered, and how I am sustained, depends fundamentally on the social and political networks in which this body lives, how I am regarded and treated, and how that regard and treatment facilitates this life or fails to make it livable.” (Judith Butler, Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable)
There is no street theater in America more urban than the theater of the unhoused. Performed night and day, taking for its stage shopping areas, miles under overpasses and corners of the subway, the opera and boulevard divides, it takes the city’s flotsam for its sets: graffitied cardboard, abandoned cars and furniture, plastic bags and corrugated fencing. In this paper, I urge us to imagine the tens of thousands of unhoused in the Bay Area (San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland) as a theater whose embedded if precarious role in the city merits critical attention and engagement.
Drawing on theories of immersive theater, the theater of the oppressed and Aristotelian tragedy, I demonstrate how the unhoused practice strategies of each form, while yet remaining unable to achieve their respective goals. What keeps their theater from achieving either audience immersion, political change or empathy? To better understand this, I turn to the voices and spaces of the unhoused. Placing my direct and documentary research in dialogue with the work of Judith Butler, Melanie Klein, Shoshana Felman and Elaine Scarry along with accounts of the untouched flaneur from Modernist fiction, I raise questions about what it means to be an invisible actor in a packed house. Can the silenced, abject body function as a voice within a theatre of absurd violence? How do spectators respond to the pain of others when it is perceived as staged as compared to unstaged? And then, if the staging of pain as spectacle can be described as the ultimate perversion of human life, does the failure to see pain unless it is staged make of it a spectacle? Through my work, I aim to call attention to paradoxes of performance and the socio-political potential of recognizing the unhoused as a form of urban theater.
Bendrat, Anna (Marie Curie-Sklodowska University), “‘New apartment, new body, new life’: The intersections of disability and immigrant experience in ‘the urban East of America’ in Martyna Majok’s Cost of Living“
In The Ontology of the Accident, Catherine Malabou describes the phenomenon of a “form born of the accident, born by accident, a kind of accident” when due to a “deep cut” in a biography, the individual’s path of life splits and a “new, unprecedented persona comes to live with the former person.” In the presentation I will explore how Martyna Majok in her 2018 Pulitzer-awarded drama traces the two cases of the intertwining impositions of a new form (immigrant, disabled after an accident) on an old form in the characters of Ani, a Polish immigrant whose tragic accident left her quadriplegic, and Jess, a first-generation recent graduate who struggles financially. To save money, Jess sleeps in her car despite working three physically taxing jobs, including taking care of a Ph.D. student with cerebral palsy. Even though the backdrop of the “urban East of America”, as Majok describes the location, is not manifested through its landscape and architecture, its constant presence in the play goes beyond the role of the setting. In line with Malabou’s concept of plasticity, the city becomes a milieu – a social construct where the immigrant status bears an increasing importance on the characters’ identity.
Gürbüz-Blaich, Nevin (Heidelberg University), “Mobilities and the City in Contemporary British Drama: Urban Practices”
With the advent of the spatial turn and growing attention to space, place, and mobility, many new British plays in the final decade, particularly those in social theatre, have focused on representation for urban spaces and city life. This is especially true when there are multiple internal or external human practices within a society which are advanced within social concerns. In this paper I discuss the urban mobilities of two types of social representation and social behaviour that are frequently rehearsed in contemporary British drama: the migrant and the local. The city contains a variety of aspects that reflect social representation and modes of social behaviour. These include peripherality, outsiders, mobilities, public and private life, which have a mode of displaying compositions of urban space. New plays presenting urban space as socially constructed have evolved in response to the above contexts. From the perspective of ‘audiences,’ this study also examines the approaches that could be used to describe the forms of mobility and social practices that are key components in the construction of a city and the identities of the characters who inhabit the inner/outer spaces. The focus on argument and thought can be seen in DC Moore’s Town (2010), Ali Taylor’s Cathy (2016), Linda McLean’s Any Given Day (2010), and Arinzé Kene’s Misty (2018). The plays portray diverse social practices in the city of London, such as struggle to find a suitable place to live, the anonymity of corporate city life, and contemporary inner-city life.
Drugeon, Marianne (Université Paul Valéry Montpellier 3), “Dorchester community plays”
Community plays have been defined as a form in the 1970s by Ann Jellicoe and explored in a variety of ways by other artists since then. I will be examining more particularly the Dorchester community plays written every four or five years from 2002 to the present. Specifically created for that city and dealing with its history, those plays are then performed by its inhabitants. They are, by definition, site-specific, participatory and immersive. They have been produced in cathedrals, school halls or as promenade productions in the streets. They are also about the city, describing its well-known public spaces, commenting on the way neighbourhoods are segregated, celebrating but also criticizing its organization of space. Those plays are also all built on a grand scale, with companies of more than 100 amateur actors and spectators who are considered as part of a community. In contrast, cities have also been used as backdrops for small-scale immersive ambulatory performances where artists offer a one-to-one experience for each spectator, or for small groups of spectators which are separated from the rest of the citizens. Sometimes using headphones to enclose the participants in a protective bubble, those creations are also inscribed in the landscape of the city, creating durable associations of ideas in the heads of the spectators who inhabit the space on a daily basis and redefining the space and meaning of the city. The first form is a communal experience initiated by the inhabitants while the second is an individual experience offered by professional artists. Nevertheless, the two politicize the space of the city as well as the citizens who are their audience. This paper sets out to explore how dramaturgical choices have an impact on the way the city and the audiences of such plays are redefined by them, during and beyond the performance.
Edwards, Gemma (University of Manchester), “Made to Connect: Theatrical Exchange in the City/Region of Greater Manchester (UK)”
This paper explores theatrical exchange in Greater Manchester, positioning the city of Manchester as the cultural provider for its region. Here, I examine the Royal Exchange Theatre’s Local Exchange programme, highlighting how this city-based producing theatre acts as a hub to incubate new writing and performance in nearby towns. Founded in 2019, Local Exchange sees the Royal Exchange’s peripatetic theatre space, the Den, take up residence in a site outside of city boundaries each year. Drawing on ethnographic research undertaken during the Den in Leigh (2021), I consider how this residency evidences an alternative critical configuration of performance and the city.
Too often, the city is the naturalised centre of theatrical activity, resulting in a model of cultural production – and indeed, theatre scholarship – which prioritises city-based performance practices. Recent political events in the UK – including the 2016 EU Referendum – revealed a chasm between English cities and their regions, leading to a political agenda of ‘levelling up’. Irrespective of the politics imbricated in this soundbite, this historical moment has seen city-based theatre organisations become cognisant of this need to ‘level up’ and attend to places outside of their metropolitan locale (see Battersea Arts Centre’s ‘Moving Roots Network’).
While this paper focuses on a city-based theatre, it adopts a decentralised approach to the analysis of its practices, asking how the Local Exchange programme works to address the inequalities in Greater Manchester. I use the term ‘exchange’ in two ways. First, in material terms, mapping Manchester’s historic connections to its region through textile and mining industries. Second, I turn to the word ‘exchange’ in the programme’s name, asking how culture intersects with the legacies of these material practices, and works to reconnect the city and its region. This paper closes with analysis of two performances from the Den in Leigh which had this spirit of reconnection at their core: Kieran Knowles’ new play Some People Feel the Rain and KIT Theatre’s Digital Ghost Hunt.
Cowan, Isla (University of Glasgow), ‘“Survival of the Fittest”: Staging Animal (Inter)Actions on the Urban Stage’”
Both the theatre and the city are often considered exclusively human spaces. Yet neither is purely human; non-human beings, such as insects, pigeons, rats, and even foxes, permeate the stage and the capitalist metropolis. Drawing on critical animal studies and the seminal work of Una Chaudhuri and Lourdes Orozco,1 this paper explores the role of urban foxes and human/animal interactions in First Love is the Revolution (2015) by Rita Kalnejais and Human Animals (2016) by Stef Smith. Performing extracts of my own one-woman play She- Wolf in relation to these dramatic works, I propose possibilities for theatre and collaborative survival as an alternative to the city’s capitalist, ‘survival of the fittest’ systems. Building on my previous reading of Human Animals as a play which blurs the boundaries between ‘pests’ and ‘people’,2 I re-situate the sick foxes of Smith’s urban eco-crisis alongside Kalnejais’ fox love story. While both plays give these animals agency, they employ different strategies: Smith locates her infected foxes offstage and Kalnejais asks human actors to embody the foxes. Moving away from anthropocentric interpretations, I examine how these different stagings deconstruct speciesist attitudes in different ways and dramatize the complex multispecies dynamics of the metropolis through themes of compassion and contagion.
The performed extracts of She-Wolf continue this progression.3 Set at the zoo, She-Wolf casts the audience as wolves in an enclosure as Maggie tells them the story of her fall from wealth and power. This set-up challenges the traditional binaries of observer and observed, human and animal, in the theatre. Where Smith and Kalnejais devise different ways of staging the animal, my play implicates the audience as animals, playing with conventional notions of wolves as vicious and ‘outside’ society. Yet, in the end, this play reverses these expectations, presenting the wolf-pack as a caring alternative to the ‘survival of the fittest’ systems that govern the city: Maggie asks whether being ‘animal’ is actually more humane than being ‘human’. Ultimately, I will explore how, by de-centring the anthropos in the anthropocentric space of the theatre, we might re-imagine the city as a shared habitat and site for collaborative survival.
Saunders, Graham (University of Birmingham), “The Resistible Rise of Isli-Crouch Upon-Thames: New Metropolitanism in New British Drama”
This paper argues that for the last thirty years playwriting culture in the UK has been subject to a growing encroachment of London cultural values. These extend from the so-called “In-Fer-Face” dramatists of the 1990s such as Nick Grosso, Philip Ridley, and Patrick Marber, who according to Aleks Sierz “saved British theatre”1 to the likes of Polly Stenham, Rachel De-Lahay and Oladipo Agboluaje who today all transpose national concerns through largely Londoncentric preoccupations. This poses the quesiton as to whether such plays risk becoming contemporary variants of what Kenneth Tynan dubbed the “Loamshire” play of the interwar and immediate post-war years which he criticized for being – amongst other things – out of touch with wider national social and political concerns. The paper will also look at the work of other contemporary “commuter dramatists”, who include Leo Butler, David Eldridge, and Simon Stephens whose work reflects tensions between the respective towns, cities and geographies of Stockport, Sheffield, and Essex from which they respectively grew up and the metropolis of London in which they all now live and work. Against these extensive commutes are the more localized ones that characters take in Butler’s Faces in the Crowd (2008) and Eldridge’s Beginning(2017) through various London’s districts. These journeys are largely instigated and driven through the process of gentrification, and the paper also considers how in comparison with plays by Black contemporaries such as Kwame Kwei-Armah’s Elmina’s Kitchen (2003) and Bola Agbaje’s Off the Endz (2010), despite often being projected as reflections of national concern, still come up against obstacles – either self-willed or otherwise- that prevents them undertaking the same, seemingly frictionless journeys through London that their white playwriting counterparts embark upon.
Voigts, Eckart (Technische Universität Braunschweig), “Vienna, London, Paris: Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt as an Elegy of the 20th-Century Bourgeois, Liberal, European City”
In Tom Stoppard’s most recent play Leopoldstadt (2019) he continues to engage with his lost Czech family past, writing an Olivier Award winning ‘autobiography in a parallel world’ (Lee 2020: 13). The paper reads Stoppard’s play as an elegy on the20th-century European metropolis epitomized by the fate of the Central European Jewish intelligentsia. Staged at a crucial moment in English history—the imminent Brexit secession from British-European identity – Leopoldstadt articulates the fundamental importance of the UK’s core European-ness as one of the key lessons of 20th-century history. In the play, the initial salon splendor of the fashionable apartment in the grand Vienna Ringstrasse serves as an urban synecdoche for audiences privileged enough to afford a West End ticket for Leopoldstadt. They may be reminded that for all their comfortable, debonair cosmopolitanism, their bourgeois salon might be under threat at any time from the other, exterior city marked by fascism, antisemitism, or other reactionary, racist and illiberal developments. The eponymous Jewish quarter of Vienna as background to the Ringstrasse splendour encapsulates a wider remit to this panoramic European urban history. The play is to be screened again via NTLive on Holocaust Memorial Day (27 January 2022), exemplifying a bourgeois, liberal, cosmopolitan (Appiah 2006) intervention aesthetically and politically at odds with the innovative, utopian, dissenting, street-based, urban theatre referenced in the Call for Papers for CDE 2022. Rather than solely focusing on the Leopoldstadt as theatrical text, therefore, the paper will contextualize the play’s uneasy fit, merging London’s West End and the NTLive transmission as performative space with the increasingly elegiac Vienna settings of the play that sketch the diminishing of bourgeois Jewish urban life on an epic scale from the comfortable salon of 1899 to the empty space of 1955.
Windberger, Eva-Maria (Universität Trier), “Preserving Memory, Experiencing Loss: Ambivalent Gentrification in Jeremy Tiang’s The Last Days of Limehouse (2014)”
In The Last Days of Limehouse, British East Asian playwright Jeremy Tiang documents the final days of London’s first Chinatown in 1958 and the reverberations of its redevelopment in the following years. Exploring questions of cultural identity, belonging, memory, home, and resistance, the play addresses the complexities of urban preservation and planning from the perspectives of those involved and asks its audience to reconsider perceptions regarding gentrification and preserving cultural heritage. First performed in 2014 by Yellow Earth Theatre at Limehouse Town Hall in promenade style, the play uses the contemporary space of its original setting to unearth the unsettling dynamics of changing cityscapes through redevelopment, which all too often uncannily erase the past.
This paper investigates the play’s agenda of preserving cultural memory by looking at its uses of intermediality, temporality, and dramatic devices on the one hand and its characters and their genealogy of memory on the other hand. The analysis draws on theories of spatiality (e.g. Tuan 1977) and memory studies (e.g. J. Assmann 2008; A. Assmann 2012) to postulate that Tiang’s play aims both at archiving the history of London’s Chinatown in the Limehouse district through drama and giving voice to the vibrant community of British East Asians living in London today. The Last Days of Limehouse essentially asks us to consider how the theatre and urban environments are reciprocally stimulating spaces, which engage us to reflect on issues central to shaping (good) life in the cities of today and tomorrow.