Celebrating 25 Years of Contemporary Theatre Review

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of Contemporary Theatre Review, the current editors have hand-picked a selection of articles from the archive that reflect something of the breadth and distinctive character of the journal.  The articles will be freely available until the end of 2015, and are introduced by the members of the editorial team. We will invite other supporters of the journal to make similar selections throughout the year.

Editor’s choice articles

Olivier Py: A Poet of the Stage: Analysis and Interpretation’, by David Bradby Volume 15 Issue 2 (2005)

Selected by Maria Delgado (Queen Mary, University of London), Editor:

When David Bradby and I were invited by Taylor and Francis to take on the roles of editors for the ‘new’ Contemporary Theatre Review acquired by the publishers from Harwood in 2001, we had a vision for a publication that brought together theatre makers and scholars in a productive dialogue about the hows and whys of contemporary theatre practice. David remained committed to the journal and its mandate until his death in 2011 and this interview with French dramatist and director Olivier Py, first published in 2005, sums up David’s curiosity, his probing mind, his expansive knowledge of theatre-making across Europe, and his passion for ensuring that the English-speaking world think a little more closely about non-Anglophone theatre cultures. Reflecting on the conversations that have taken place across the pages of the journal, my mind turned to David and his legacy. The intellectual generosity of David Bradby and his vision of what the journal might offer the discipline flickers brightly across the pages of this document.

‘Gender and censorship’, by Elizabeth Wilson Volume 17 Issue 4 (2007) (‘Gagging’ – Forum on Censorship)

Selected by Maggie Gale (University of Manchester), Editor:

One of the sustained and impressive attributes of Contemporary Theatre Review’s agenda on being re-booted by Routledge, has of course been the editorial commitment to new scholarship. Equally, the journal has flourished through its engagement with the interventions of more established scholars and often, those working outside the immediate field of theatre and performance. Elizabeth Wilson’s short polemic on ‘Gender and Censorship’ is one such piece, taking a historical perspective on the intellectual project of fighting censorship, and keeping a wary eye on the impulse to censor rather than engage in meaningful, productive, and intelligent debate. I love this piece for its braveness and its conviction of the importance of ideas and experience: that these should have more impact than the often regulatory and oppressive systems of control so often at the root of censorial practice. The piece is as meaningful now as when it was originally published in 2007, and brings an important, non-performance voice to a continuing cultural debate.

‘Parallel Power: Shakespeare, Gunfire and Silence’, by Paul Heritage Volume 15 Issue 4 (2005)

Selected by Jenny Hughes (University of Manchester), Assistant Editor:

This article offers an account of an extraordinary production of Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra that happened on the border between two rival gang-controlled areas of Rio de Janeiro, and is a fantastic example of the journal’s documentation of theatre initiatives outside of an Anglo-American context. I learnt about this production when working on the early phases of a research project exploring theatre in places of conflict (www.inplaceofwar.net). The production, and article that followed, extended the research team’s thinking about the spatial and temporal limits of war, provoking us to include theatre in sites of violence outside of those formally designated as ‘war zones’ and also, as a logical progression from this, trace echoes of ‘far away’ wars in theatre-making in communities and sites closer to home. The themes explored in the article – of parallel powers, shadow networks, and relations of violence that traverse supposed divisions between times and places of war and not-war, draw attention to the ways in which organised violence and its consequences extend across time and space, as well as to the potency of performance projects that map these traversals.

‘Towards a Prehistory of Live Art in the UK’, by Heike Roms and Rebecca Edwards Volume 22 Issue 1 (2012) (Special Issue: Live Art in the UK)

Selected by Dominic Johnson (Queen Mary, University of London), Editor:

‘Towards a Prehistory of Live Art in the UK’ is a striking example of the innovative scholarship on experimental performance that Contemporary Theatre Review encourages and publishes. The article demonstrates the creative ground upon which what we now know as live art became materially possible and culturally intelligible. The article appeared in my special issue on ‘Live Art in the UK’. A bit of backstory: I’ve worked on the editorial team at Contemporary Theatre Review since 2008; and on becoming an Assistant Editor in 2011, I proposed the special issue on ‘Live Art in the UK’, in an effort to enhance what I saw as a lack of substantial scholarship about practices of British live art in the field of theatre and performance studies more broadly. The special issue was posed as an attempt to open the journal more explicitly to scholarship that might understand experimental performance as a robust range of practices, demanding historically-grounded, materialist, and historiographically-rigorous academic attention. All of the contributions achieved this, but none so profoundly, in my view, as Roms and Edwards’ article, which constructs a persuasive history for marginalised practices of performance in the UK, specifically through a set of important events in Edinburgh, Cardiff, and elsewhere.

The Author: Response and Responsibility’, by Tim Crouch Volume 21 Issue 4 (2011) (Forum: Tim Crouch, The Author, and the Audience)

Selected by Aoife Monks (Queen Mary, University of London), Consultant Editor:

In this short article, Tim Crouch documents the process of making and performing his play, The Author. But the form that this article takes is unexpected. We begin by reading a letter written by Crouch in 2009, addressing an audience member who felt deeply upset by the representations of violence in his play. The piece then becomes a talk that Crouch gave in Leeds in 2010, reflecting on the relationship between responsibility and theatre-making. The article concludes with some reflections written in 2011 that consider the forms that an audience’s ‘self determinacy’ might take. For me, this piece – its formal experimentation as an ‘article’ and its place in a larger Forum edited by Stephen Bottoms combining scholarly and artistic responses to Crouch’s work – embodies the ethic of CTR. The journal’s aim to publish essays in innovative critical forms and to provide a space – literally a forum – for a variety of voices, draws attention to a range of art practices and enables the art-makers themselves to reflect on and document their practice. I’ve used this piece to help students see how critical writing might take unexpected forms, and how artists might write ethically, reflectively, and beautifully about their own work.

‘Krystian Lupa: The Double and Utopia’, by Grzegorz Niziołek, trans and ed. by Paul Allain and Grzegorz Ziółkowski Volume 15 Issue 1 (2005) (Special Issue: Polish Theatre after 1989: Beyond Borders)

Selected by Bryce Lease (Royal Holloway University of London), Book Reviews Editor:

Contemporary Theatre Review’s special issue on Polish theatre after 1989, guest edited by Paul Allain and Grzegorz Ziółkowski, provided an overview of economic transition, shifting and emerging national identities, and socio-cultural context that productively worked alongside detailed analyses of artistic innovations that challenged traditional notions of political theatre. Not only did this offer a forum for scholarship that shed light on a culture that is often either excluded from mainstream Anglophone scholarship or limited to a very select coterie of artists and productions, the special issue also gave voice to a range of impressive Polish scholars. The meticulous translation of one article strikes me as an excellent example, Grzegorz Niziołek’s ‘Krystian Lupa: The Double and Utopia’. Niziołek brought to my attention a director who had been given considerable critical treatment in Poland, Russia, Germany, Belgium, and France, but who remained worryingly neglected in the UK and North America. Emphasizing Lupa’s compositional strategies, dramaturgical experimentation, unique stage aesthetics, and investigation into psychoanalytical structures, Niziołek’s approach rendered intelligible a form of theatre that embodied a significant moment in both Polish and European history. Offering perspectives that form the grounding for crucial inter- and transnational scholarship in our field, CTR’s proceeding issues on Catalan, Flemish, and German theatre cultures equally offered important work in this vein. These special issues remain essential reading in my classes on contemporary European theatre.

Backpages: ‘The Rise of the Character named Spectator’, by Sophie Nield (and guests) Volume 18 Issue 4 (2008)

Selected by Theron Schmidt (King’s College London), Assistant Editor:

At its best, a journal is a kind of space – a place we might go to in order to spend some time and to do some thinking. As befits the typical scholarly practice, mostly this is done in solitary mode, but Contemporary Theatre Review also has its own kind of water-cooler in the form of ‘Backpages’: a place where new ideas are tried out, where past colleagues are remembered, and where different forms of writing might be tested. Sophie Nield’s 2008 contribution on immersive theatre reflected the potential for currency that this space provides; for some time, while more thorough theorisations were being developed, it was one of the only critical pieces to probe the then-ascendant form. But more than this, it was also a wonderfully populated space – haunted, even – with the role of ‘Spectator’ played by multiple credited but unspecified voices who pitched in when needed in Nield’s narration. This convivial delegation was entertaining, but also shrewdly used its formal device to mirror the very theatrical dynamic it was describing, by which audience members were being cast as a single aggregated, anonymous presence.

‘Book review: The Cambridge Companion to Performance Studies, by Alan Read Volume 19 Issue 3 (2009)

Selected by Caridad Svich, Associate Editor:

Tucked away in the pages of every issue of Contemporary Theatre Review are reviews of recent monographs, essay collections, and other works written and/or edited by scholars and practitioners. In the fall of 2009, I was reading the journal as usual, invariably provoked and stirred by the level of rigorous thought and lively debate and passion evident in writings about issues in the field when I fell into a book review of The Cambridge Companion to Performance Studies by the inimitable Alan Read. Rarely do book reviews take me to another realm of reflection on art. But this one took me by the heart and mind and would not let me go. In fact, I read it several times and have kept it in my archives of ‘favorites’ ever since. Read’s engagement with the idea itself of the existence of an editorial volume on the field of performances studies is thorough, surprising, and stoked by the kind of fire that goes far beyond the somewhat expected parameters of a book review and instead takes the reader through an act of reading in and of itself – an act of re-seeing what a critical response to another act of writing can be. The wonder of this book review is emblematic to me of so much of what Contemporary Theatre Review has been over the years – playful, intelligent, unexpected in its point of view and articulation of thought, and resonant long after the pages have been closed and the issue is filed away on the shelf. This review puts me in mind too of the extraordinary writing the journal has offered to the field – from entire issues on Tim Crouch and Martin Crimp’s works to wide-ranging provocations and studies on work being made in Catalonia, Poland, and Australia. I look to Contemporary Theatre Review to change how I see the world, not to merely re-confirm the known. This review seems to be one of the most apt examples, in miniature, if you will, of the beauty of what this journal does time and again: embrace the impossible.

 

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