Modern British Playwriting - The 1990s

Aleks Sierz
Methuen Drama

Modern British Playwriting - The 1990s

This book is part of an incredibly ambitious and highly commendable series commissioned by Methuen Drama under the "Decades" banner.

The name rather gives the game away since the six-volume collection looks at theatre in this country during each of the decades from the 1950s onwards.

The formula is fixed for the authors, which will mean that readers will soon become familiar with the product and know exactly where to look for material.

As with so many books from this publisher, while the target audience might well be academic institutions and their students, general leaders can derive much enjoyment as well.

It was perhaps inevitable that Aleks Sierz, the leading expert on In-Yer-Face Theatre, should be asked to write a book on British theatre in the 1990s.

He proves to be an excellent choice thanks an encyclopaedic knowledge of theatre of the period and more particularly new writing, which characterised so much of the most exciting work during the decade.

The first chapter provides a breezy run through life as it was lived in the 1990s, with reminders of the days when people got married, wore AIDS ribbons and only paid £28 for an average West End theatre ticket.

Having set the scene, the author then provides a fantastic 60-page overview of British theatre in the 1990s, giving a really strong feel for the economics, artistic endeavours and people behind the major works.

As with every book in the series, much of the meat lies in detailed analyses of a quartet of playwrights and their plays.

There is nothing cosy about this selection, which starts with Aleks Sierz writing cogently about Philip Ridley and ends with Graham Saunders putting together a strong case for Mark Ravenhill as not only an In-Yer-Face author but also a gay / queer playwright at the forefront of a movement which has come to full fruition in the succeeding decade.

The other two sections on Sarah Kane and Anthony Neilson are more variable. The respective authors, Catherine Rees and Trish Reid give competent overviews of the plays under consideration but then feel an urge to create theses that tend to obfuscate rather than explain, hindered by the use of language that is unlikely to mean anything to anyone who is not permanently employed in the field of Theatre or Performance Studies.

Somewhat quirkily, the book is then supplemented with four highly informative "documents", which comprise a fascinating short play by Philip Ridley, an interview with Sarah Kane, the thoughts of Anthony Neilson and a lecture by Mark Ravenhill.

An afterword bringing the careers and lives of these writers up-to-date closes what is generally a highly worthwhile volume, offering much promise for the rest of the series.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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