ELCS6053 - Political Theatre
Value: 0.5 course units
Tutor: Dr Marta Niccolai
Assessment: 2 assessed essays of 2000 words each.
Term: Taught in Term 2
The course introduces students to political theatre through the works of prominent figures in the 20th century theatre. Bertolt Brecht is mostly known for his political expression through an adaptation of the Epic Theatre, where the representation of reality is more important that reality itself. Although his theatre deals with universal concepts, his work cannot be separated from the historical context of the 1920s and 1950s and the rise of Nazism in Germany. The same can be said for Dario Fo. As playwright and ‘jester’, between 1960 and 1990 Fo wrote and performed satires against the Italian political establishment and the Catholic Church, a choice that meant “persecutions” against him by both institutions. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997. Franca Rame, his partner in life and work, was a left-wing political activist, a feminist, and a playwright, who deconstructed and re-created women’s lives on stage. Joan Littlewood shook the bland British theatre available in her time. She was a cultural and artistic innovator, and the pioneer of a theatre that moved away beyond a polite regurgitation of middle-class life, to capture the wit and poetry of working-class lives and communities.
During the ten weeks we will explore the theory and practice of Epic theatre, satire, comedy, and musical, as aesthetic tools to deliver powerful political messages. For each play we will consider its elements, such as plot, character development, beginnings and endings. The historical context and political climate that inspired the play will also be considered.
Students are requested to attend screenings of two plays at the National
Theatre Archive, one visit to a theatre in London, and a screening of one of Fo’s
play at UCL.
Preparatory Reading and Set Texts:
- Bertolt Brecht: Mother Courage and her children (1939).
- Bertolt Brecht: The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1944).
- Dario Fo: The Accidental Death of an Anarchist (1970).
- Dario Fo: Won’t Pay! Won’t Pay! (1974)
- Joan Littlewood: Oh What a Lovely War! (1963)
- Franca Rame and Dario Fo: A Woman Alone & Other Plays (1991)
Initial bibliography (further bibliography and articles will be uploaded on Moodle)
- Mitchell, Tony, Dario Fo. People’s Court Jester, Methuen, London, 1999.
- Farrell, J., and Scuderi, A., eds, Dario Fo. Stage, Text and Tradition, Southern Illinois University Press, Illinois, 2000.
- Mumford, Meg, Bertolt Brecht, Routledge, London and New York, 2009.
- Benjamin Walter, Understanding Brecht, Verso, London and New York, 1966.
- Taylor, R. (ed.), Aesthetics and Politics, Verso, London and New York, 1977
- Holdsworth, Nadine, Joan Littlewood, Routledge, London and New York, 2006