Modern British Playwriting 2000 – 2009
Edited by Dan Rebellato
This is the latest volume in the Methuen Drama Decades series, bringing the history almost up-to-date.
Unlike previous authors in the series, Dan Rebellato, Professor of Contemporary Theatre and Head of Drama and Theatre Department at Royal Holloway University of London, has chosen to act very much as an editor, commissioning the vast majority of the text from others. This might be regarded as a mixed blessing.
Following the now-traditional snapshot of life in the decade, Andrew Haydon's overview of theatre during the period concentrates on the obscure rather than the mainstream, downgrading or ignoring 95% of what one might reasonably have expected to see.
This is unfortunate, since readers in the future could get the impression that verbatim, headphone and immersive theatre represented the majority of what was available and, more particularly, viewed.
Indeed, casual observers might not even realise that there was still a great deal of text-based work being written, and that the West End, the Royal Shakespeare Company and many solid theatre companies up and down the country continued to operate between 2000 and 2009.
For whatever reason, Haydon seems determined to seek controversy for the sake of it and has an unfortunate tendency to scoff at those whose views differ from his own. To take a couple of random examples, it seems hard to believe that Sir Tom Stoppard (or anybody else) would regard himself as "a Tory playwright", while for some unknown reason the redoubtable Michael Billington gets the rough end of much ungenerous ridicule.
The pursuit of the unorthodox is a theme that also has a role in the choice of five playwrights to epitomise the decade and the plays selected to represent them.
Simon Stephens is hardly renowned for writing well-made plays, while Tim Crouch, whose section is well written by Rebellato himself, often comes closer to verbal and intellectual experiments than dramas as we know them.
By way of contrast, Roy Williams, interestingly covered by Michael Pearce, is a worthy, interesting and challenging writer of narrative-based plays.
David Greig must surely be one of the best and most prolific playwrights of the era and therefore was always going to have a place in a book of this type. Even then, Nadine Holdsworth's decision to start the section reviewing his work with San Diego, an experimental piece that has still not made it down to London, will not necessarily please the cohorts of his fans.
Finally, Lynette Goddard provides a pen portrait of debbie tucker green, another challenging but deserving inclusion, although her dislike of the limelight reduces the Documents section.
That is also an odd mixture, featuring some short pieces of horror by Simon Stephens, musings from Tim Crouch but worthwhile interviews with David Greig and Roy Williams.
This review should have given potential purchasers a good feel for what is and is not in Modern British Playwriting 2000 – 2009. As such, those who dislike the vast majority of British theatrical presentation but still consider themselves interested in the genre should be rushing out to buy copies.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher