Identity and atrocity: international theatre since 1945

This post is a quick resource for students attending my lecture series (title above) in HT 2019. Links to all the handouts shared online are available below. Feedback is welcome, either in the comments section to this post or via email (sophie.duncan@ell.ox.ac.uk). The last lecture in the series will take place this Friday (Friday 15 February 2019) at 11 a.m. in Seminar Room K. All welcome.

Week 1: Southern Gothic, Gay Panic: Tennessee Williams’s Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1955) and Suddenly Last Summer (1958). Handout.

Week 2: Beckett’s History Plays: Krapp’s Last Tape (1957)and Endgame (1958). Handout.

Week 3: Colonialism: fantasies and nightmares in Caryl Churchill’s The Hospital at the Time of the Revolution (1972) and Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good (1988). Handout.

Week 4: Sexuality and the Holocaust play: Martin Sherman’s Bent (1979)and Sarah Kane’s Cleansed (1998). Handout.

Week 5: Black Histories: Athol Fugard, John Kani, and Winston Ntshona’s The Island (1972) and Lolita Chakrabarti’s Red Velvet (2012).  Handout.

Thank you to all those who have attended the lectures or been in touch about them – you can still discuss the series on Twitter, via the hashtag #IDtheatre.

Identity and atrocity: international theatre since 1945

This post is to publicise my lecture series this term on Identity and Atrocity in Anglophone theatre since 1945. It’ll be happening on Fridays at 11.15 in Lecture Room K of the English Faculty for Weeks 1–5 of term (18 Jan to 15 Feb), and the outline is below. For more information, leave a comment or email me (sophie.duncan at chch.ox.ac.uk). I’ll be tweeting about the lecture series at #IDtheatre – please join in, whether you’re attending or not!

Description:

This series looks at theatre written and performed in Britain, Ireland, America, South Africa and continental Europe since 1945, thinking about how drama presents transgressive and marginalised racial, sexual, and national identities when plays bring the past onstage. The plays in this series, disparate in form and setting, introduce post-1945 drama’s international contexts, exploring some of theatre’s most iconoclastic and influential responses to atrocity. All plays listed below are available via the database Drama Online, except The Island, copies of which are available in various university libraries. Key primary texts include:

Week 1: Southern Gothic, Gay Panic: Tennessee Williams’s Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1955) and Suddenly Last Summer (1958).

Week 2: Beckett’s History Plays: Krapp’s Last Tape (1957)and Endgame (1958).

Week 3: Colonialism: fantasies and nightmares in Caryl Churchill’s The Hospital at the Time of the Revolution (1972) and Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good (1988).

Week 4: Sexuality and the Holocaust play: Martin Sherman’s Bent (1979)and Sarah Kane’s Cleansed (1998).

Week 5: Blackness and Adaptation: Athol Fugard, John Kani, and Winston Ntshona’s The Island (1972) and Lolita Chakrabarti’s Red Velvet (2012).

The dreaded rewrite

I have just finished rewriting the third chapter of my thesis. There are no appropriate metaphors for how I really feel about this chapter. I’ll stick to claiming that I feel like a successful fisherman waving aloft a shiny prize carp. This is, of course, a lie. I feel more like I’ve been locked in a cellar with something saber-toothed and nasty, until we eventually emerged, dragging each other by the teeth and splattered with most of each other’s brains. On this occasion, the chapter lost, but not by much.

This is, of course, an entirely irrational and overblown reaction to the end of a process that occurs while sitting down, in a centrally-heated flat, with ample access to tea (but not biscuits. I hate Lent. I would sell my face for a Jaffa Cake) and Twitter. I like my thesis. I love my research. I don’t like footnotes, except when I can knock the “pp.” off forty or so notes at a time, and thus pretend I’m saving words. But, my god, I have hated the last bit of rewriting this.

Even deleting items from my three-column, word-documented, cloud-computering to do list (truly, I am the Hunter S. Thompson of doctoral research) hasn’t mitigated the pain. “Don’t get it right, get it written” is the golden rule of DPhil-writing, but in third year, you also have to get the damned thing formatted and polished and devoid of square-bracketed injunctions to [MORE] (also [QUOTE] and [EVIDENCE] and the stomach-churning [PUT CONCLUSION HERE]).

Perhaps the subject matter made this so tough. This chapter contains most of the really depressing stuff in my thesis; the sexualisation of children, child suicide, the anorexic aesthetic, and the fetishising of celebrity illness (especially female mental health). This has, in turn, led to much re-reading of Sarah Kane and looking at the growing cultural obsession with underweight female bodies in the late nineteenth century. It didn’t help that I’d written the first draft in an immensely slappable style, although lord knows I’d rather rewrite for style than because of terrible holes in the research.

Here’s a fun fact, though: rewriting makes me wish I were a man, because if I were, I would grow a big Periclean, Roger-Allam-as-Falstaff-style beard every time I had a major piece of work to complete. I would rejoice in it. It would be a totem of chapter-writing and people would bow before its length and unrepentance. Everyone, knowing I was writing, would close their eyes in silent respect. As totems of chapter-writing go, a majestic beard would be much better than the library mumble (when you go straight from studying to coffee with a friend, and can’t form coherent sentences until the caffeine kicks in), or just looking slightly rough after days at a laptop.

NB: I don’t think this is a case of misdirected penis envy, or even a desire to have Roger Allam as my spirit animal. ‘Spirit animal’ is my new phrase. In the last week, two people of whom I am fond have informed me that Enjolras from Les Mis is their spirit animal. One is a socialist writer on the working class, feminism and politics, and the other is my Christian, drama kid visiting student from California.

Anyway, the last few footnotes are underway, and although it’s a sunny day, I don’t want to go out in case the phone rings. #freelanceproblems.

Chapter-wise, next up is Ellen Terry in Cymbeline, or the chapter which is meant to be about a pretty Briton princess, but ended up involving vampires, somnophilia, and pseudo-medical fanfic…

lol Coleridge: lines writ on having Shakespeare in one’s arms

‘You remember, doubtless, Coleridge’s words, as reported by Mr Payne Collier: “Great dramatists make great actors. But, looking at Shakespeare merely as a performer, I am certain that he was greater as Adam in As You Like It, than Burbage as Hamlet or Richard the Third. Think of the scene between him and Orlando, and think again that the actor of that part had to carry the author of it in his arms! Think of having had Shakespeare in one’s arms! It is worth having died two hundred years ago to have heard Shakespeare deliver a singel line. He must have been a great actor.” I love to think so.’

Helena Faucit (Lady Martin), On Some of Shakespeare’s Female Characters (1887), 254.

 

Great dramatists make great actors. Discuss. I’m not sure. I know that good poets don’t necessarily make good performers. I know, however, that Sarah Kane was meant to have been extraordinary as Grace in Cleansed, and I would call her “great”. I wonder if Joe Orton ever wanted to appear in any of his work…

Also, oh, Coleridge, you always make me laugh (when I encounter your hilarious views on Shakespeare and don’t actually have to read your poetry…).

[REVIEW] CUPPERS 2010

Last week, I was lucky enough to be a judge for OUDS Cuppers 2010, the first-years’ college drama festival. This involved gazing into the tiny, uplifted faces of fresh thespy youth and then brutally marking them out of 10 in a variety of categories including acting, design and marketing. As in 2007 (the last time I judged), the process was accompanied by a lot of moaning, whinging, averted eyes and tears, chiefly from the panel. Onstage, the Freshers were relatively restrained, stopping at fellatio and the odd anal rape. As in 2007, I actually really enjoyed the process – especially running the feedback sessions for competing teams –  and hope that OTR sends me back again next year.

I haven’t seen the final awards list, but my Oxford names-to-watch would be Matthew Brooks and Frankie Goodwin as directors; and Rhiannon Kelly, Charlotte Lennon, Emily Norris and Claire Taylor as performers (hey, guys? If you’re reading, be awesome, it’ll make me seem clairvoyant).

Anyway, for posterity’s sake, my reviews:

Wednesday 17th November

2.30 p.m. The Wizard of Argoz, St. Peters College

“Warmly appreciated by a large College audience, which, after all, is one purpose of Cuppers” Sophie Duncan ★★

3:00 p.m. Phaedra’s Love, Wadham College

If Michael Brooks develops this version of Phaedra’s Love into a more nuanced but no less intense production, he’ll be the director to watch.” Sophie Duncan ★★★

3:30 p.m. Comic Potential, Jesus College

“I rather lost my heart to this engaging cast” Sophie Duncan ★★★★

4:30 p.m. The Choice, Corpus Christi

“His unexpected intensity made Choice, for a moment, a completely different play.” Sophie Duncan ★★★

5:05 p.m., Love of the Nightingale, Somerville College

“Claire Taylor as Procne gave the performance of the day.” Sophie Duncan ★★★★

PARIS: I want to write on the chevaux de Marly

The grave of de Beauvoir and Sartre, covered in flowers and metro tickets. By shimgray on flickr.
The grave of de Beauvoir and Sartre, covered in flowers and metro tickets. By shimgray on flickr.

The long horrifying slide towards my essay deadlines has got appreciably smaller. Last week the only thing getting me through was custard creams; this week, I’ve gone from being totally demoralised (two nights ago) to actually quite chipper. I’m not sure whether this is genuine progress, hormones or some sort of kick-save-brain protection that’s blanking the truth in order to keep me out the Isis. I have essays. I could hand them in if I had to. I am eating quite a lot of pitta&-based meals.

Although I feel roughly the size of a whale and my skin has exploded (coruscations last scene during Finals, also the era of my last largest-ever-mammal impression), this kind of hard work is actually good for me. Having to be so diligent during the day makes my brain more active at night, and the intensity of work means I can genuinely take the evenings off (without, as happened so often in undergrad – my god I am tempting fate here, tomorrow my hard drive’ll explode – having to work through the evening because I cocked about morning and afternoon). That said, I’m still not a morning person, and although I’ve got good stamina when something fascinates me (currently: typing up the MOST HEARTRENDING Sarah Kane quotations into an irrelevant Word document and/or playing with manuscript reproductions), starting earlier doesn’t actually increase my productivity – I’ve only got so many productive hours in the day (as far as work goes, anyway).

Meanwhile, Oxford’s experiencing the sweetest, softest Spring weather, and I am mouldering in libraries. But I do, at least, have things to blog about, namely PARIS.

Chloe – the worst person in the world, my beloved friend & the Richard II fail king to my excellent Carlisle – and I are spending September in Paris. We are looking for accommodation. We are sharing copious links. We are writing to each other in terrible, pidgin French. My grasp of French language is totally unhelped by my grasp of French literature, since the only phrases I learnt out of books were about furrowed brows, trampled mint and underage teenagers losing their virginities in, I seem to remember, haybales (or, in other words, Collette’s Le Blé en Herbe, available at all good vendors of underage teenagers and mint, hurrah A Level coursework). Mostly I can remember the grammar and unhelpful phrases like <<en ce qui concerne>> and << revers de la medaille>>, but NOT, sadly, the French for ‘sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’, which I distinctly remember learning out of an old purple book just before GCSEs. There are a few issues to be addressed in our search for an apartment; we need certain things like a lift if above a negociable number of floors, etc and I am enjoying resurrecting LE SUBJONCTIF in order to explain to bemused proprietors (all of whom reply in peerless English) that BIEN QU’ELLE NE SOIT PAS UNE MALADE, etc. It should be noted that I feel compelled to print French in capitals to convey a subtle sense of ENGLISH GIRL BELLOWING and a sad lack of accent. This is because this is how I speak. I also worry I won’t understand a word of what is said to me, possibly leading to our deaths at the hands of white slavers (n.b., my view of Paris, where I have not been since reasonably young, is STRONGLY INFORMED by the later Radlett novels of one N. Mitford – ooh, Chloe, that’s another place we should go, we can go to the Rue Monsieur and I’ll read you all the dreadful bits where she’s dying). I am also attempting to look up exciting arty/gay/theatrical places for us to go and things to do. I’d really like to see some theatre while we’re there.

I like how this post makes me sound cultured and not as if I’m also GREATLY looking forward to the food…

Anyway, to people who know Paris: suggestions! Recommendations! We are two students who steadfastly avoid sport but like pretty much everything else. Unless, in my case, it happens somewhere high.

For inspiration, I’ve been checking out – and, um, gacking (shut up Jay it’s better than Googling) photos from my friend Shim on Flickr. I don’t have anything intelligent to say about them, except the somewhat macabre ‘oh, I’ve always liked graveyards‘ and hurrah for the Pompidou! I do love graveyards, though, they’re so interesting – especially foreign ones – and I adore the image I’ve chosen for the top of this post. You can see Shim’s full Paris 2009 set here.