Brexit Stage Left


A New Perspective of the State of the Nation Plays

Image: Mitch-Lensink

Image: Mitch-Lensink

Since the birth of the state-of-the-nation tradition, British theatre has dealt with local issues closely related to the nation. This focus on issues by theatre makers can be justified because of the multiple threats that have faced the nation such as immigration, multiculturalism and national identity. All these provocations have had their impact on the type of the plays presented on British stages. 

Accordingly, looking closely at the British theatre today, we see the marginalisation of European plays in the programmes of major theatres. This phenomenon can be clearly seen after the heated argument over Brexit. 

The reasons behind the lack of European plays can be classified into three main types: economic, social and political.

Concerning the economic, as we know, funding is the main source of British theatre income. Government financial aid increased during the noughties, not only to the principal companies but also to an increasing number of the new young writers who are interested in propagating social theories. 

Therefore, the function of the playwright is influenced by the state, in the form of government subsidy. Left-leaning drama in Britain during the noughties, inevitably associated itself with the social values of its main source of economic nourishment. This economic link between government funding and theatre artists explains the apparent lack of confidence in the ability of theatre to effect change at the time. The playwright cannot exceed the role assigned to him. Thus, most writers are constrained by a particular point of view, which does not necessarily reflect their own. In this context, theatre, a highly visible and social practice, makes clear the consequences of the state’s economic influence in a way that no literary or visual arts can.

As arts funding was progressively cut in the 2010s, mainstream UK theatre became more commercially-driven. The market was seen as the sole motor of arts development. Consequently, grants for theatres which were unable or unwilling to match that funding through commercial ventures were cut. Moreover, the hostile attitudes of some critics towards European theatre and against foreign texts helped marginalise them further in this more commercially driven environment.

In such a cultural atmosphere, artists were forced to fit into a service-oriented economy, which met the needs of the market out of the realm of everyday life. 

It is worth noting that one of the reasons for the absence of European texts during the 2000s has been ascribed to the cultural climate of British theatres. The playwright has to battle with producers, directors and actors for his plays to see the light. Moreover, the themes presented by foreign plays may not find a positive response in British society. 

The other reason for the lack of European plays is social and political. These facts are associated with the impact of successive waves of new immigrants from different parts of Europe, the Middle East and beyond. The new comers represented a source of threat not only for traditional British values but also increased fears of terrorism.

Majeed Mohammed Midhin