What do they know of theatre who only theatre know?
Sunday, 27 September 2009
Last week, Chris Wilkinson’s regular Guardian blog, Noises Off, asked, “When is a new writer not a new writer?” It’s a good question. Since the new writing scene in British theatre has boomed and boomed in the past decade, there are more and more schemes, fests and plays that have attracted the label new writing. Like an advertising slogan, the word “new” always promises more than it can deliver. Sometimes, this is just a synonym for young writer; sometimes, this just means that a play is new, as in previously unstaged. But although it is fair enough for new play competitions to specify exactly what they want from those that would like to enter the contest, surely new writers are simply people who write in the genre of new writing? If you define this as plays that are contemporary in language, style, subject and form, then you have new writing, in all its glory, from comparative newcomers such as Jack Thorne to veterans such as Caryl Churchill. If you trim away plays that are adaptations of novels, history plays, verbatim theatre, what’s left is usually an example of new writing. If you look for plays that have a distinctive and singular writer’s voice, you have New Writing Pure. The rest is New Writing Lite. It’s quite complicated, but not unfathomable.
Aleks Sierz is author of In-Yer-Face Theatre: British Drama Today (Faber, 2001), The Theatre of Martin Crimp (Methuen Drama, 2006), John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger (Continuum, 2008), Rewriting the Nation: British Theatre Today (Methuen Drama, 2011) and Modern British Playwriting: The 1990s (Methuen Drama, 2012). He is editor of The Methuen Drama Book of 21st Century British Plays (2010) and co-editor of The Methuen Drama Guide to Contemporary British Playwrights (2011). He is a member of the UK Critics' Circle and a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts. A journalist, broadcaster and theatre critic at large, he is also Visiting Professor at Rose Bruford College and teaches postwar British theatre at the London branch of Boston University.