Get Real: Documentary Theatre Past and Present, ed. Alison Forsyth and Chris Megson (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) and Dramaturgy of the Real on the World Stage, ed. Carol Martin (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)

Caroline Wake


In her seminal essay, ‘Bodies of Evidence,’ Carol Martin defines documentary theatre as ‘created from a specific body of archived material: interviews, documents, hearings, records, video, film, photographs, etc’ (2006: 9). In other words, documentary theatre both depends on and depicts history, or at least history as it has been recorded in the archive. Yet in depicting history, documentary theatre inevitably alters and augments it and Martin identifies four historical functions for the form: (1) ‘to reopen trials’; (2) ‘to create additional historical accounts’; (3) ‘to reconstruct an event’; and (4) ‘to intermingle autobiography with history’ (12-13). In addition, she also identifies two representational tasks for the genre, namely ‘to critique the operation of both documentary and fiction’ and ‘to elaborate an oral culture of theatre’ (13). In short, documentary theatre interrogates the relationship between reality and representation through a combination of repetition (by retelling, reconstructing, re-enacting) and addition (by including formerly excluded stories, incorporating not only the archive but also the repertoire). For Martin, as for many, it is these paradoxical pairings of the actual and the fictional, the real and the representational, the personal and the political, that makes documentary theatre so complex and compelling.

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