left-wing theatre

left-wing theatre
   Although there has been a tradition of broadly leftwing theatrical ventures in Britain since the late nineteenth century, the pioneering work of the Royal Court theatre and Theatre Workshop in the 1950s provided a springboard for a remarkable flowering of politically committed theatre in the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1960s, socio-economic circumstances favoured the growth of a politically engaged theatre: central and local government support for theatre increased, and as the number of students in higher education rose, there was a growth in audiences prepared for a theatrical diet that encouraged a critical debate about political issues. In 1968, the abolition of the Lord Chamberlain’s powers of stage censorship removed a powerful obstacle to attempts to stage political, religious and sexual issues. Touring companies devoted to raising political issues found support both from established theatrical venues and from groups of workers engaged in political action. Much of this new work was agitprop, aimed at issues of the day and utilizing stereotypes and cartoon-like action to make direct political points.
   The success of what had been a very eclectic leftwing theatrical movement sparked off a series of new, more closely defined ventures for groups whose voices had been marginalized, focusing on issues of race, gender, sexual orientation and disability. However, after 1979 the Thatcher government initiated a slow process of pushing back the frontiers of political debate in the theatre, both directly, with legislation to abolish the Greater London Council (a staunch supporter of left-wing theatre) (see GLC) and to cut back funding of gay and lesbian theatre groups, and indirectly through reductions in subsidy that made it difficult to fund enough actors to tour large cast plays and for local government to support venues and companies alike. The Arts Council also chose to remove funding from theatre groups that might be seen as politically committed, such as 7:84 England, Foco Novo and Joint Stock (whose 1977 staging of David Hare’s Fanshen about the Chinese revolution was highly influential), favouring instead dance and companies committed to exploring the classics. Although alternative comedy has sometimes offered a cheaper and less technically demanding medium for raising left wing issues and some Asian, black, community, feminist, gay and lesbian ventures survive, the broader umbrella has virtually disappeared.
   Further reading
    Rees, R. (1992) Fringe First, London: Methuen (an important collection of interviews and recollections).

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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