Sunday, 31 August 2014

Political theatre and a few thoughts...

Both Adrienne Scullion's survey of the Glasgow Unity Theatre (Glasgow Unity Theatre: The Necessary Contradictions of Scottish Political Theatre, Twentieth Century British History Volume 13, Issue 3, Pp. 215-252) and Daniel Lapenta's critique of John McGrath's Border Warfare suggest that, on the West Coast, the connection between theatre and politics is consistent and long-standing. Scullion points out that most scholarship surrounding the GUT has emphasised its left-wing intentions, including links with the Communist Party, before pondering whether the political tensions within the company led to its eventual disintegration: Lapenta repeatedly comments that Border Warfare has a pro-nationalist slant and notes that the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, is presented as the latest in a long line of English tyrants who have bullied the Scots.

When Eric Karoulla pondered political theatre in the 2013 Fringe, he reflected that 'everything could be political': Michael Kirby's 1975 essay On Political Theatre attempts to deconstruct that assumption by defining politics more closely. While Karoulla continues to suggest that the very act of performing, since it requires a degree of freedom of speech, is political, Kirby is more concerned with relating 'political theatre' to dictionary definitions and questioning its impact as a form of activism (he suggests terrorism is probably more effective).

The politics of both McGrath and the GUT were expressed as the advocacy of socialist positions, and in the case of GUT and 7:84's revival of their plays, a focus on the experience of the working classes. Plays now accorded the status of modern classics (Men Should Weep, In Time o' Strife, GUT's The Gorbals' Story, which was made into a film in 1950) reflect this emphasis: perhaps, as Scullion hints, the dynamism of Scottish theatre is driven by resistance. 

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