Howard Brenton and the Improbable Revival of the Brechtian History Play

Botham, Paola (2014) Howard Brenton and the Improbable Revival of the Brechtian History Play. Journal of Contemporary Drama in English, 2 (1). pp. 170-184. ISSN 2195-0156

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In 2004, political dramatist David Edgar suggested that the so-called Brechtian history play, “set in foreign countries and/or the past, as a way of looking at the present,” had ceased to be a viable model. However, the mid-2000s also saw the unexpected return to mainstream British stages of Edgar’s contemporary Howard Brenton, with a number of highly popular ‘Brechtian’ history plays, including In Extremis (2006) and Anne Boleyn (2010). This essay explores Brenton’s successful revival of this genre, one of the preferred strategies of radical playwrights in the 1970s, within the sceptical context of recent times. It analyses how the Brechtian model of the history play can be transformed to meet the aesthetic and political demands of the twenty-first century, highlighting in the process the self-transforming powers of the modern project itself against what can now be described as postmodernist orthodoxies. Brechtian historicisation was indeed underpinned by a Marxist belief in historical progress, but its emphasis on alternative courses of action also embraces the non-teleological openness which characterises the survival of political theatre today.

Item Type: Article
Identification Number:
7 January 2014Accepted
16 April 2014Published
Subjects: CAH25 - design, and creative and performing arts > CAH25-02 - performing arts > CAH25-02-03 - drama
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Design and Media > Royal Birmingham Conservatoire > Royal Birmingham Conservatoire - Acting
Depositing User: Paola Botham
Date Deposited: 19 Apr 2024 10:09
Last Modified: 19 Apr 2024 10:09

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