David Lane gave a paper centring on his work on a book on ‘Contemporary British Drama’, to be published as one of a series of Critical Guides to Literature, published by Edinburgh University Press.
Whereas there has been a mapping of recent British drama just prior to the millennium, this book will attempt to summarise work after the millennium. This, of course, raises the question as to what should be included and the problematics of seeming to engage with a ‘canon’ (are we, Graham Ley asked, talking about post-canonical drama here?)
In approaching this problem, David asks the question, ‘What is work of quality and value and when do we know it’s occurred?’
He then goes on to argue for a series of criteria, starting with the premise that: ‘forward-thinking work that challenges perceptions of what theatre is, is of value.’
Such theatre may be characterised by:
1) innovation in form and structure
2) an ability to engage with the world
3) its illustration of change and progression in theatre culture
4) by the ways in which it reinvents drama and the dramatist
It will not necessarily be characterised by being written by new or young writers.
Throughout the discussion, David wove in a recognition of his own subjective viewpoint and journey, his role as a dramaturg and as a playwright, speaking of a ‘union’ rather than a ‘slippage’ of roles. This not only led to a consideration of the necessary and potentially useful links between theory and practice (citing Foucault’s suggestion that knowledge is ‘for cutting’), but also a recognition of the subjective aspects of drawing up the list of writers/writings to consider.
This list, which I will not attempt to reproduce here, is either radically inclusive or a bit conservative, depending on where the reader is standing. For instance, most of the names Lane cites are pretty well known and established, which qualities are not, on the face of it, a necessary part of his criteria. However, despite this quibble, born of my own wish to ferret out writers holed up in Devon sheds, and so forth, I have no doubt that in its context, it will prove a fascinating challenge to most readers’ expectations of the series, including, for example, a discussion of devised theatre and its relationship to writing.
It is also fascinating to observe this dramaturg/playwright’s journey, and the integrity of his questioning, which will surely lead him into more and more interesting places.