The Contemporary Political Play by Sarah Grochala (London: Bloomsbury, 2017)

Corey Wakeling


Dramatist and critic Sarah Grochala’s The Contemporary Political Play confirms by way of conclusion some of the shortcomings of a too-fixed political theory of the theatre. Grochala’s formalist, dramaturgical aspirations regarding what political theatre is does not regard a genre of dramatic or postdramatic writing for performance, but rather a changing theory of it. Case studies involve instances where new dramaturgical strategies for making theatre of political consequence have emerged in our contemporary moment. Grochala joins a school of theatre and performance thought that theatre is political when it challenges how audiences confront spectacle and spectacle-making. Don’t misunderstand the title, though. However general and theoretical the book might sound, the survey of plays substantiating Grochala’s dramaturgical analyses is limited to the British Isles and does not extend beyond the English Channel, nor the Irish Sea for that matter. That choice behoves that the author assemble from the specificities of their context a case for that context’s influence upon the general category of “the contemporary political play”. The question of Grochala’s achievement in this area I will return to later in the review. Numerous works of contemporary British theatre are considered across five chapters of the book’s six (Chapter 1 rethinks the category of “serious drama” and politics in modern theatre in general), including Mark Ravenhill’s The Experiment (2009), debbie tucker green’s Generations (2007), and Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information (2012). Broad categories such as “Time”, “Space”, and “Character” structure a discussion of dramaturgical experiments initiated by unconventional playwrights whose plays reshape theatre as we know it and force us to rethink what we consider to be of political consequence there.


performance; politics; dramaturgy; plays

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