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Sanja Nikcevic

British Brutalism, the New European


Drama, and the Role of the Director
The explosion of new theatre writing in Britain during and since the nineties contrasted
with a dearth of original plays on continental Europe, east and west. Sanja Nikcevic
attributes this in part to the dominance over the previous decades of the role of leading
directors, who increasingly sought out raw materials to shape productions conforming to
their own or their companys ideas. She traces the attempts in a number of countries to
correct the imbalance by encouraging new writing through workshops and festivals yet
also how the explosion and importation of the British in-yer-face style then affected the
kind of new writing that was considered innovative and acceptable at such events. She
argues against the claims made for the political significance of plays such as Sarah
Kanes Blasted, suggesting rather that the acceptance of the normality of violence without
reference to its social context negates the possibility of remedial action. A former Fulbright
Scholar, Sanja Nikcevic is Head of the Department of English Literature at the University
of Osijek, Croatia. Her full-length publications include The Subversive American Drama:
Sympathy for Losers (1994), Affirmative American Drama: Long Live the Puritans (2003),
and New European Drama: the Great Deception (2005). She was the founder and for eight
years the president of the Croatian Centre of the International Theatre Institute.

IN CONTINENTAL EUROPE during the Similarly, a production became a project. In-


nineties, there was a discernible decline in stead of directing a play directors were staging
the use of the words play and playwright, their vision, ruthlessly abolishing the usual
stemming from a directorial emphasis on components of the play itself: story, catharsis,
play texts as objects ready to be shaped into audience involvement, words, even actors. In
performance material. As the German play- considering what might get in the way of a
wright Tankred Dorst aptly commented, directors personal vision, the playwright was
Today the author does not write a play but a first to go. The new monarch has to dispose
text. We are becoming used to that. of the deposed king!1
The rawness of the words is considered Tellingly, the dominant theatre aesthetic of
the only element necessary to expound the the seventies was labelled directors theatre or
directorial vision. The words could come from sometimes post-dramatic theatre. Directors,
anywhere from actors games that produce who began as primus inter pares in staging a
a play (as in the case of Peter Brook), from play became the author of the project, creator of
newspapers, and even from other plays as the performance, the main visionary of the
it is the re-shaping of them through such pro- theatre. Directors worked to give the play a
cesses that creates new work. different meaning from the playwrights
Directors took dramaturgs as collabora- vision, and called it reinterpretation of the
tors to reshape and cut original plays, calling text. As Roberto Ciulli said, The text should
this adaptation or dramatization although it be rethought from my own point of view. 2
is not clear how you can dramatize some- Later, it seemed the play itself became redun-
thing already written in dramatic form. After dant it was legitimate for directors to make
text, the play became pre-text, scenario or a performance without words, based on
libretto, idea, words all these now appear on visual tableaux (Robert Wilson) or movement
playbills all over Europe where once play (Christoph Marthaler). The Croatian director
was used. In the last phase of destruction, Damir Zlatar Frey staged Divine Hunger
text becomes collage. Slavenka Drakulics novel about a woman

ntq 21:3 (august 2005) cambridge university press doi: 10.1017/s0266464x05000151 255
who eats her lover without a word being the auspices of the European Union, the
spoken by the actors on stage. He envisioned European Theatre Prize has been presented
the whole novel as stage directions in order in Taormina. This is hugely important the
to demonstrate to audiences how good a Oscar of European theatre. The biggest (and
writer she was.3 richest) European theatre and festival mana-
Since dead playwrights are not at hand to gers and directors, also influential critics, all
share in their plays glory or object to inter- gather there. Such a concentration certainly
vention, despite posthumous adaptation, they works to create, reaffirm and also help to
are more positively established within this define European theatre trends.
new tradition than are the living. Peter Stein Until 2001, the main awards for theatre
said that he stages only classics because he excellence were given only to directors
cannot re-create (my italics) the work of a con- Ariane Mnouchkine, Peter Brook, Giorgio
temporary playwright.4 Thomas Ostermeier, Strehler, Robert Wilson, Luca Ronconi, Pina
spokesperson for a younger generation, re- Bausch, and Lev Dodin. Two exceptions
iterates: The dominance of directors in the were the playwright Heiner Mller (in 1994)
theatre has led to the expulsion of writers and the actor Michel Piccoli (in 2001). When
from the theatre. You were not really a direc- an award for New Theatre Reality was intro-
tor unless you put on classical texts. 5 duced in Taormina in 1990, this also favoured
The quality of a new play was no longer directors (Anatolij Vasiljev, G. B. Corsetti,
important. Serbian director Gorcin Stojanovic Eimuntas Nekrosius, Christoph Marthaler,
was forthright: As a theatre director I do not Thomas Ostermeier, Alain Platel, Heiner
need a great playwright. I need good perfor- Goebbels) or groups (Theatre de Complicite,
mance material. 6 If the living playwright Carte Blanche, Theatergroup Hollandia,
wants to be accepted, he needs to kow-tow to Societas Raffaello Sanzio) all of them poli-
a directors political, sexual, or (most impor- tical, and dominated by a strong directorial
tant) aesthetic orientations. This last means a vision. Most of these groups did not collabo-
willingness to cut and paste a text endlessly rate with playwrights, but had dramaturgs
according to the directors vision, or to write to fulfil their need for verbalization (this time
a play open enough in form for the director there is just one exception in 1999 the Royal
to insert into it whatever he wants to envision. Court Theatre was given the award for
That is why Heiner Mllers Hamletmachine developing new plays).
and Bchners Woyzeck were staged so often To summarize: from 1986 to 2001 Taormina
in the second half of the twentieth century. awarded prizes to fourteen directors, four
director-led groups and to just one play-
wright, one actor, and one theatre for devel-
Symptoms of the Problem
oping plays.
The playwright became either the dramaturg If one wanted to name new contemporary
of his own play, or more usually, persona non playwrights appearing after the theatre of
grata in the rehearsal space. As Thomas Irmer the absurd and before the nineties, inclusive
said at the beginning of the nineties in of Eastern Europe but excluding Anglo-
Germany, The situation was almost hopeless Americans or writers for ones own theatre,
for the new playwright. 7 how many might there be?
Of course, not all European directors dur- Kalina Stefanovas book Eastern European
ing the period worked like this. But directors Theatre after the Iron Curtain comprises essays
who liked contemporary plays and wanted on theatre in nations of the former Soviet bloc.
to stage them from the playwrights point of Each essay discusses numerous interesting
view were ousted from the big boys club. In directors; and each laments the lack of play-
Croatia they were called invisible directors wrights. Tomasz Kitlinskis essay mentions
nomen est omen. only Mrozek and Rozewicz as contemporary
The clearest proof of this situation lies in the playwrights. This is Anna Lypkivska, on the
awards system. From 1986 onwards, under Ukraine: Today, staging Ukrainian plays is

256
extremely important. Unfortunately there are Two Traps for the Playwright
almost no new plays being written by
Two phenomena persist to close off oppor-
Ukrainian playwrights. . . . In their search for
tunities for new playwrights. The first is the
new diverse repertoire, theatres have turned
popular conviction that the playwright is not
to classic national and foreign drama.8 And
a craftsman but a genius. A good play is the
this is Ramune Marcinkeviciute on the state
consequence of a lightning flash of divine
of Lithuanian theatre: The third feature of
talent, not a process that can be learned. As
recent seasons is the death of Lithuanian
Jovan Hristic said, We are discussing the
drama. Since gaining independence, not a
role and the function of the playwright in the
single new Lithuanian play worthy of notice
theatre. I deeply believe that this is not a
has been staged. 9
question that is decided by theatre directors,
Since 1996, the European Theatre Conven-
actors, or even theatre critics. It is decided by
tion has organized its Theatre Forum. In 1999
God. If he doesnt give us a great playwright,
the theme was Writing for the Theatre Today,10
we have to do without text or take classical
but most names mentioned were directors.
texts . . . 12
For example, the paper on German theatre
Although to be considered thus favoured
mentioned the latest work of the countrys
by God may sound flattering for playwrights,
older directors, then introduced every inter-
this is a trap, because something God-given
esting new director Zadek, Steiner, Kastorf,
cannot be learned. All over Europe the
Marthaler, Ostermeier with just a mention
Anglo-American model of playwriting work-
of contemporary playwrights at the end of
shops is looked down on as something com-
the article. In spite of the theme, the pieces on
pletely unworthy. European theatre doesnt
Slovenia, Macedonia, and Bulgaria do not
allow the playwright to develop a play and
mention playwrights at all.
improve it, to learn something from the
The International Association of Theatre
production process. But it is difficult to make
Critics symposium in Novi Sad in 1997 was
good plays without this process. Yet in the
dedicated to The Fate of the Text in Todays
case of staging the contemporary play, the
Theatre, but all the contributors focused theo-
playwright often cannot sit in on rehearsals
retically on the position of the text in theatre
because he is too disturbing to the creative
and the directors vision, with almost nothing
team which he is not considered part of.
about contemporary playwriting. As Nina
The second phenomenon was even more
Kiraly pointed out, Most of the discussion
insidious. Every new play was compared
was about Shakespeare and Hamlet.11
directly with Hamlet. Gods voice. No one else
The congresses of the International Feder-
stood a chance.
ation for Theatre Research signal the same
Such anxious exclusivity followed that if a
problem. None since 1957 has had drama or
playwright wrote stories that the audience
playwright in its title. Instead they have dis-
liked, it was considered mere craftsmanship:
cussed national theatres, dance, design,
not sufficiently artistic, and unworthy of a
politics, performance theory, even television
great directors consideration. Consequently,
and entertainment. The closest they got to
to evaluate the proper qualities of a contem-
playwriting was the topic Don Juan and Faust
porary playwright was seen as impossible or
in the Twentieth Century (Prague, 1991).
unrealistic.
Within the framework of the Croatian
Centre of the ITI, I set up an international
drama colony with the basic intention of
Demand for New Writing in the Nineties
facilitating exchange between playwrights,
and I asked for collaboration from several The process by which directors theatre was
European countries. When, in 2000, I asked eradicating traditional elements of theatre
the Czech Theatre Institute to send me new one by one (from playwright to actor) was
playwrights they said they did not have any, part of the continuing search for something
and sent the director Jiri Pokorny instead. newer and exciting. Soon, directors began to

257
abandon the theatre itself, moving into video, started a festival of Croatian plays called
dance, movement, visual tableaux, mechan- Maruls Days (named after a famous medi-
ical acting, and wordless, plotless theatre eval writer and scholar). The Marin Drzic
into empty, cold, emotionless performances. Award for drama gave not only a substantial
Most directors manifestos could explain amount of money to the winning playwright
these very skilfully as the only modern, con- but also an additional subsidy to the theatre
temporary, and correct approaches to todays that staged the play indeed, special subsi-
theatre. Some of them created performances dies were given for the staging of any new
of great quality Robert Lepages Dragon Croatian play.
Trilogy, for example but over-theorizing In 1992, the Bonner Biennale began in
had by the end of the eighties led European Germany, subtitled a Festival of New Euro-
theatre up a blind alley. pean Drama, led by Tankred Dorst (play-
Critics and theoreticians accepted direc- wright) and Manfred Beilharz (director), who
tors theatre with enthusiasm, but audiences travelled around Europe in search of new
seemed less inclined, and the late twentieth plays. When I started to promote contem-
century was marked by dwindling theatre porary playwrights everybody was saying I
attendances. Audiences in Eastern Europe was wrong, because the future of the theatre
were more interested in reality as docum- is in multimedia and the non-verbal. But this
ented on television, history as it happened festival proved that I was right, said Beilharz
on the streets. With the coming of democratic in an interview in 2000.15
processes and the struggle for a multi-party Playwriting awards were inaugurated all
system, theatre lost its leading role in politi- over Europe from Hanover in 1995 to
cally subversive activity. Before the changes Lithuania in 1998 and during the nineties
in Eastern Europe, theatre had been a sub- centres for the development of new drama
versive platform for statements against the were established throughout Eastern Euro-
government. Now opposition could be voiced pean countries. One of the first, the Seminar
in parliament or expressed in newspapers. for Contemporary Drama, was founded in
Additionally, the growth of computerized Krakow, and in 1999 the Croatian centre of the
entertainment coincided with the rising cost ITI started an international writers colony
of theatre tickets in the new economy.13 in Motovun (Istria), based on the American
Aside from Eastern Europe, this audience model of the ONeill Theatre Centre in
crisis was occurring elsewhere, as in both Waterford. The 1997 IATC Symposium was
East and West Germany. As the result, there dedicated to the text, and the European
began in the nineties a driven, tangible Theatre Conventions Forum of 1999 focused
search for new playwrights. In 1990, at the on the playwright. Even Taormina made an
Berlin College of Art, Heiner Mller and exception in presenting its main award to the
Tankred Dorst set up, for the first time ever playwright Heiner Mller in 1994. When, in
in Germany, a degree course in writing for 2001, the main award was given to the actor
the theatre.14 Numerous seminars and play- Michel Piccoli, it was obvious that something
writing workshops emerged, and at the end was affecting the dominance of directorial
of the eighties, the playwright Miro Gavran power, and that the new emphasis on play-
started playwriting workshops in Croatia, in wrights was a sign of resistance.
spite of accusations from very serious theatre
people that this was a worthless American-
In-Yer-Face: the British Trend to Violence
ization of theatre.
Many European countries took part in an Directors instead began to search for a new
resurgence of national drama festivals and European drama. They began in England, be-
supported the staging of new contemporary cause something interesting was happening
national plays, often with state help. After there at the beginning of the nineties.
Croatia gained independence from former The notion of the play itself being the
Yugoslavia in 1990, its Ministry of Culture main component of theatre has persisted in

258
Anglo-American thinking. As David Edgar of the national press. The play become hot
said wittily: Every ten years or so, there is a news, attracting attention from non-theatre
spate of articles in the British press pro- audiences. On television, newsreaders spread
nouncing the death of theatre in general and the panic, while cultural commentators sunk
socially committed theatre in particular. their claws into the scandal. 22
Each time this happens, its a good bet that it In spite of the almost unanimously nega-
will be followed by the emergence of a new tive response of critics, Kanes next play,
wave of young British playwrights deter- Phaedras Love, was staged almost immedi-
mined to reflect whats happening in society ately afterwards, at the Gate Theatre in 1996,
in a new way.16 The belief that the play- directed by the author. And in 1995 Mojo, a
wright can raise a theatre from the dead is play about petty criminals in the fifties, and
stronger in Britain than in the rest of the the first by young author Jez Butterworth,
Europe. That is why Graham Whybrow had gone straight to the Royal Courts main
(Literary Manager of the Royal Court Theatre) stage. In 1996 the Court hosted Mark Raven-
could say that in Great Britain, the play- hills first play, Shopping and Fucking, to a
wright is seen as an artist and everybody else similar public outcry. But he too was encour-
is there to serve his play. 17 aged to write a next play that immediately
Despite this dynamic, the domination of reached the staged.
artistic directors in British was also power-
ful, with a decline in new plays in Britain at
The Fight for Domination
the end of the eighties, when Ian Rickson
lamented of the Royal Court: The Theatre Now, Jack Bradley, Literary Manager of the
Upstairs had been closed, there were only six Royal National Theatre, receives over one
new plays a year and playwriting was in a thousand scripts a year; Graham Whybrow
depressing state. . . . The energy was with the at the Royal Court receives 3,500.23 Accord-
classics, and with directors.18 If this was true ing to an official report by the New Play-
of the Court, following in George Devines wrights Trust (now Writernet), at any one
footsteps as a playwrights theatre, such a time during the mid-nineties there were
falling-off was even more evident in other something like 25,000 play-scripts in circu-
British theatres. Less than ten per cent of the lation.24 The defence of staging apparently
repertoire comprised contemporary British violent and aesthetically empty plays needed
plays. The Arts Council began encouraging strategic thought.
the staging and development of new plays The riposte to the negative media reaction
and, as a result, the situation changed very to Blasted around 1995 was mainly led by
quickly: between 1994 and 1996 the percent- directors, with Stephen Daldry (Royal Court)
age doubled, several hundred new British at the forefront. Although he had made his
plays being staged in that period.19 reputation directing classics and revivals, as
One of the numerous new plays produced the Courts Artistic Director from 1993 to 1998
was Blasted by Sarah Kane, staged in 1995 at he redefined its style as promoting provoca-
the Royal Court, the first play by this young tive young writers, and became the impre-
author. On its first night, the sixty-seater sario of in-yer-face drama.25 He deliberately
Theatre Upstairs housed mainly critics, who chose provocative topics to incite public atten-
slated the play, railing at the violence shown tion Ken Urban thus claiming that Daldrys
on stage and the naive style of writing. Jack only advice to director Ian Rickson was to add
Tinker (Daily Mail) called it a disgusting male nudity to his production of Mojo.26
feast of filth, and Michael Billington (The Daldry also invited older, established play-
Guardian) was surprised that such poor writ- wrights Bond, Pinter, and Edgar to defend
ing had been accepted by the board of the Blasted.27 Of course, they were defending
theatre.20 The opening night was followed by their own profession in the face of negative
a sort of panic, with cries for the restoration publicity.28 Edgar, as creative writing tutor at
of censorship in Britain21 in the letters pages Birmingham University, had mentored and

259
supported many young playwrights as his tural renaissance, Cool Britannia, that also
students. Daldry cleverly schmoozed the recruited uniquely Britpop bands such as
critics, trying to make them hip to the new the Spice Girls, Oasis, and Blur. Soon it was
aesthetic of in yer face cool. obvious that gritty plays about violence
After the negative criticism of Blasted, the dominated this new wave. Critics used such
British press continued to debate its pros and terms as cutting edge theatre, 33 new brutal-
cons. Opponents of Kanes work were accused ism, neo-Jacobinism, the theatre of urban
of being old-fashioned, conservative, and ennui, and in-yer-face theatre.34
narrow-minded. The dialogue appeared to Aleks Sierz, Tribunes theatre critic, coined
symbolize a struggle between progressive this last term, first in New Theatre Quarterly,
and reactionary forces, and the favoured trend then in his book on the phenomenon, In-Yer-
was, of course, the modern. Its special quali- Face Theatre: British Drama Today (Faber, 2001),
ties were seen as a brave political stance and which considered some twenty authors
an honest depiction of reality and very (including Kane, Ravenhill, Enda Walsh, Jez
soon it began to achieve renown in countries Butterworth, Irvine Walsh, and Martin
where theatre was also open, new, and pro- Crimp). In a further analysis written after the
gressive, and so had no compunction about publication of his book, Sierz confirmed his
putting brutalities on the stage. opinion that the movement only briefly
Any dissenting English critic who disliked stirred English theatre, then faded out: Has
this type of new play might have felt uncom- the new wave of the nineties broken? The
fortable when Sarah Kane, suffering from signs suggest that it has: the death of Sarah
clinical depression, took her life in hospital Kane in February 1999, the huge West End
in February 1999. Her last play, 4.48 Psychosis, success of Conor McPhersons rather gentle
was staged posthumously in 2000 at the and redemptive play The Weir, the failure of
Royal Court. The theatre claimed that they Irvine Walshs shock-fest Youll Have Had
wanted to avoid publicity,29 but the plays Your Hole all were signs that the pheno-
black poster was a very obvious signal that it menon that got so much attention in the mid-
would achieve a great deal, including inter- nineties was rapidly losing its energy.35
views with Kanes brother discussing her By the new century, there was an inevitable
illness.30 Edward Bond wrote that Kane was retrospection and reaction. Sierz said recently
killed by the theatre and its critics.31 that plays influenced by Kane tended to be
With this personal entanglement of the childish nonsense, and If I start talking about
writer with the media and the critics, the in-yer-face theatre in five years, please tell
question of individual talent was brought to me to shut up. I couldnt stand to live in the
the fore. Suddenly everyone could decipher past.36
beauty, poetry, and truth in Kanes plays,
together with her portrayal of reality and her
In-Yer-Face Becomes New European Drama
political stance. Michael Billington stated of
the revival of Blasted: Five years ago I was While, with a decline of in-yer-face theatre at
rudely dismissive of Sarah Kanes Blasted. the end of the nineties, British theatre was
Yet watching its revival last night I was over- engaging with new trends and topics, across
come by its sombre power. So what has the Channel the influence of the in-yer-face
changed? The space, the design, the lighting, style had transmigrated into a new European
the cast and James Macdonalds production drama.
are all radically different. But, above all, one Participants at the IATC symposium in
sees the play through the perspective of Novi Sad in 2003, dedicated to New Euro-
Kanes tragically short career and her obses- pean Drama, were astonished at the contin-
sion with loves survival in a monstrously ental success of these plays. Funnily enough,
cruel world.32 most surprise was shown by the British rep-
The blossoming of new playwriting in the resentatives. Graham Whybrow said openly
nineties was seen as part of Tony Blairs cul- that the interest of other countries in British

260
playwrights had reached a stage of cultural When the Royal Court was given the
embarrassment,37 and Aleks Sierz, speaking award for development of new drama in 1999
as chair of the third day of the symposium, it was for this kind of play. During the Taor-
said that he was eager to understand what mina forum, there was discussion of Kane
Europe found interesting in this small and and extracts were given from Shopping and
isolated family at a time when Britain had on Fucking, Martin Crimps Attempts on Her Life,
offer many better plays.38 and Mojo as experimental directors work-
Rather than European directors drawing shops. When Thomas Ostermeier got the
upon Britain for new dramatic influences it is award at Taormina in the following year, he
more accurate to say that there was strong presented himself as director of Kanes Crave,
mutual activity connecting British and Euro- performed by the Schaubhne. So two very
pean theatre in the nineties. Jack Bradley prominent institutions the Royal Court and
and Graham Whybrow39 do not believe that the Schaubhne were both presenting these
there was any drive to introduce new British plays to the assembled European theatre com-
playwrights to Europe, but that the impulse munity as New European Drama, together
coincided with European directors prefer- with instructions on how to direct it. Now
ence for in-yer-face writing, despite the dif- the big boys club directors were staging in-
ferent kinds of play also available. yer-face British plays all over Europe, or
In Europe, the trends acceptance and im- searching in panic for something similar in
pact was most important in Germany, where their own backyard.
young theatre people in the nineties gath- However, the directors choice of such
ered around Die Baracke, the small stage of drama provoked huge criticism. Audiences
the Deutsches Theater in Berlin, a place with walked out, and actors refused to perform. A
close connections to the Royal Court. From few years ago, actors from the National
1996 to 1999, when Die Baracke was led by Theatre in Split (Croatia) refused to accept
the young director Thomas Ostermeier, it roles in a Kane play, although theirs is a very
proclaimed a theatre credo of searching for good ensemble, and open to directors experi-
new writing for theatre that would be able to ments, interpretations, and demands. Anja
express a new realism.40 The glut of new, vio- Sovagovic, an esteemed Croatian actress, not
lent British plays was seen as something that only refused to play in Phaedras Love, but
would be shocking enough to attract media wrote about it publicly and openly because
attention. it is a bad play, senseless and without any
Shopping and Fucking by Mark Ravenhill, need for the actors art.42
and later Disco Pigs by Enda Walsh, certainly
drew attention to Die Baracke and its leader-
A Zeitgeist of Guilt
ship. At only thirty, Ostermeier was given
the position of Intendant at the Schaubhne, Defenders of the New European Drama pro-
Berlins most prominent theatre, and was tested that only this could express the
showered with prestigious awards and invi- Zeitgeist or feeling of the time. Kane became
tations to direct all over Europe. He had the new Shakespeare and Jon Fosse (from
joined the big boys club. Norway) the new Ibsen.
The trend was taken up by German fes- Although European critics couldnt be
tivals. The Berliner Festwochen of 1998 were blamed for Kanes death, as her plays only
dedicated to The New Generation, pre- subsequently reached European stages, her
senting mostly British writers of the in-yer- illness and demise are common knowledge
face style.41 The Bonner Biennale jumped on and usually expressed as elemental to her
the bandwagon and included plays from expression. In a piece on Cleansed, directed
other countries that fitted with the trend. by Warlikowski in the 2003 Canadian FTA
Soon, the festivals subtitle, New European festival, the first sentence was: Sarah Kane
Drama, was mistaken for the trend itself, committed suicide at age 28, leaving behind
and word spread. radical and extreme writing of a rare vio-

261
lence, plays that highlight horror and rip our forming to the British model. And found
remaining illusions to shreds. 43 Why was they were, more than forty of them, similar
the fact of her suicide so important in an era in style and theme.47
where the facts about writers lives are not German theatre easily imposed its trends
normally considered relevant to their work? on the rest of Europe. Thus the Schaubhne
The purely emotive was being used as a is part of a theatre network called New
shield against negative opinions of her work. European Writing, together with the Royal
Whoever dared to criticize this kind of play Court Theatre, Teatro della Limonaia from
was labelled bourgeois, blas, cynical and so Italy, and the Thtre National de la Colline
on . . . . 44 Ostermeier perceived people who from France.48 Ostermeier also initiated
rejected New European Drama as those who FIND Festival of International New Drama.
desired only entertainment. Those not in Despite its aspirations, it became clear that
sympathy with its aesthetic were cowards.45 the principles of selection actually followed
And, as in Britain, critics began to change the typical Schaubhne sensibility . . . with
their initial opinions. As the Czech critic Jitka plays that are all too similar in topic and tone
Sloupova said in her paper at the Novi Sad regardless of where they are coming from
symposium: Canada, Reykjavik, or Berlin. 49
The first Seminar of Contemporary Drama
My first reaction, typical for the majority of the in Krakow was intended mainly as a theo-
audience, to British cool drama was shock. And retical centre for German and Polish profes-
also suspicion. I recall Max Stafford-Clarks New
York production of Shopping and Fucking. In my sionals. Its primary goal, as described by Nina
review I asked the question: Does the contem- Kiraly, was to discuss the new methods and
porary audience have the skin of a rhinoceros and tools of analysis and description of con-
is it necessary to use the knife literarily to get temporary dramatic texts of Ravenhill and
under that skin? Kane (England), Lagarce (France), Nikolaj
Koljada and his young followers in Russia,
Jon Fosse (Norway), Ingmar Villquist
Find Me That Kind of Play
(Poland).50 When the Centre for Drama and
The search for new European playwrights of Directing was founded in Moscow in 1998,
similar sensibilities produced Marius von promoting young playwrights as its main
Mayenburg (dramaturg of Die Baracke, goal, their staged readings were mostly of
Germany), Biljana Srbljanovic (Serbia), Dejan plays by Koljadas pupils and followers.
Dukovski (Macedonia), Lars Noren (Sweden), At first sight, the success of the chosen
Jon Fosse (Norway), and Nikolaj Koljada playwrights was immense. Marius von
(Russia). Similarly styled plays were hard to Mayenburgs Fireface (written when he was
find in Europe and because there was not 26) received two awards and Thomas Oster-
enough material to choose from, much was meier staged it at the Munchener Kammer-
invented. All over Europe, directors and spiele. In the same year, Jan Bosse directed
artistic directors were starting to shape play- Mayenburgs new play Psychopaths as part of
wrights into fitting the trend and they were a directors competition in the framework of
doing it very openly, especially in Germany. Wiener Festwochen, Vienna. In 2000, the
When Thomas Ostermeier became intendant Munich performance of Fireface transferred
of the Schaubhne, and began his search for to the Berlin Schaubhne, where Ostermeier
new playwrights, he didnt start to look for became intendant; after that it was staged all
distinctively German writers, but asked over Europe and invited to every prominent
Who is the German Ravenhill?46 European festival.51
So all the workshops, staged readings, So plays of a very specific type, clones of
playwright residencies, grants, playwriting British in-yer-face theatre, were accepted as
courses, festivals, even staging and the more New European Drama and proclaimed to be
usual ways of supporting playwrights, had the only correct expression of the Zeitgeist.
only one intention: to find playwrights con- Considerations of sensibility, form, or thematic

262
interest were disregarded. As Thomas Irmer Brenton.54 Genet and Koltes had achieved
commented concerning the popularity of that this in France.
kind of play in Germany: One can argue that Previously, dramatic violence (explicit or
the popularity of new drama with directors, not) was usually the culmination of a plot
dramaturgs, actors, and designers, was not and graduated to a tragic end; alternatively,
audience-driven but carefully developed by the violence came at the beginning of a play
a web of people in and around theatre all which tried to explain and understand it. In
together. 52 Kanes plays the overbalancing of often un-
willing sex, esoteric drug-taking, and all
kinds of torture and cruelty towards others,
The Topical and the Taboo
is not as a new convention, but the content of
In terms of perceiving in-yer-face plays as a the play.
new theatrical movement, they lacked the From anonymous, trapped interiors, more
usual criteria for this in not initiating new and more shocking violence is played out.
conventions of staging. They brought some This is how the characters communicate
novelty on a topical level, but did not change through shock, demanding repulsion as the
any previously practised theatrical conven- only possible, desensitized response. Emotive
tion, mainly because realistic and naturalistic force, unshaped formally, is disturbing but,
procedures are usually sustained. As Kane as Anne Ubersfield says, No violence, nor
said of her own directing of Phaedras Love, politics in a play should be directed into the
From the beginning, we decided to present play; it should inspire us to think. 55
violence as realistically as possible.53 A directors argument for presenting an
Most other British and most German pro- in-yer-face play was its honesty and realism,
ductions have also been realistic: there is its political and social awareness of the brutal
always blood spread all over white walls in society we live in. Critics such as Sierz take
the scene where Gary is killed in Shopping on these arguments: Some, like Sarah Kane
and Fucking. Ravenhill himself has been sur- and Mark Ravenhill, may have been
prised by this invariably naturalistic mode of Thatchers children, but their political aware-
staging. The characters, mostly drug addicts, ness also put them in a direct line with the
prostitutes, and damaged people, do not powerful leftist tradition in British theatre. 56
develop during the play. They just have dif- A Croatian critic sees Shopping and Fucking as
ferent kinds of sexual intercourse, whilst making a very critical leftist [my italics] point
taking drugs and torturing each other. Nor is against a conservative society deep in hypo-
there any development in dramatic struc- crisy and lust.57
ture: plot is usually linear and simplistic on a The Slovenian critic Andrej Jaklic writes of
formal level. Action moves from torture to Cleansed: The huge amount of physical
torture, piling up violence towards climactic aggression . . . is most of all a metaphor for
deaths. Possibly this explains the brevity of the psychological aggression that is stimu-
the trend. Even variations on torture, pain, lated by an undercover political system of
and violence can exhaust the viewer very values based on the mutual action of human
quickly. double standards and the cruel logic of
Violence itself is hardly new. The Greeks, capital.58 But on the next page he adds:
Romans, Seneca, Kyd, Shakespeare in Titus
Andronicus, Webster all have numerous The characters are shown in a very abstract way,
murders, mutilations, and rapes. While con- without personal history or social profile, and a
vention and censorship disallowed explicit basic lack of any information that would deter-
scenes of violence on the stage before the mine coordinates of action. . . . Every attempt at
twentieth century, modern British theatre psychology, interest in individual and moral belief
or in general ethical principles is completely miss-
went on to break that taboo with such plays ing. We do not know anything concrete about the
as Saved by Edward Bond, East by Steven world where the hero is, nor about the other
Berkoff, or The Romans in Britain by Howard characters.59

263
How can the cruel logic of capital be shown a position of indifference by telling them that any
in a play where you do not know anything help to the addict or people who suffer is unneces-
sary. Normality becomes abnormal . . . and the
concrete on the society or characters? Soci-
sick attitude normal, so it should be left alone.62
ally engaged theatre cannot engage only by
showing the worst side of society. Political The worst hypocrisy of the New European
plays show the relationship of individuals to Drama is its use of real tragic events as the
their society, how social relationships shape pretext for starting a play, or gaining media
individuals and the potential for political attention. Consensus said Blasted was about
change. the Bosnian war. The play takes place in a
hotel room, where a journalist is torturing a
What Kind of Political Awareness? girl in the first act and a young man is tor-
turing the journalist in the second. The un-
In-yer-face never potentializes change. The defined violence outside the hotel room has
worlds are stabilized states of horror, which provoked the violence inside.
makes them not political but fatalistic. They Ah, Bosnia, say the critics, obediently fol-
offer violence on an archetypal level as some- lowing the authors tip.63 But after you see
thing inherent in us, not as the consequence the play you will know exactly the same about
of a social structure, as a political play would the Bosnian war as you did before. You will
show; instead were given the dramatic equi- have no need to do something about it, to
valent of a horror movie. Evil is omnipresent, change the situation in Bosnia, or even Britain,
and claims innocent victims. There is no because violence has merely been shown to
escape or possibility of change, because that be an intrinsic part of human nature. The
evil exists on a deeper level. location is used to market the scene: at that
But the difference between a horror movie time everybody knew, more or less, that some-
and in-yer-face drama is that the latter pre- thing horrific was happening in Bosnia.
tends to be realistic. The play does not create In her next play, Kane showed no interest
an imaginary, fantasy world with werewolves in wider political situations of violence.
or vampires, but a known, everyday world Cleansed is set in a sanatorium, somewhere
that strangely functions in the same way as a on a university campus, in a rich western
horror story. Unfortunately the horror-movie country. The characters have no connection
element foregrounds the New European with world atrocities, but utilize torture as
Drama not as politically aware but as a genre pain relief or as something life-perpetuating.
which superficially conforms to societys
worst impulses. As Dorota Cirlic says: These
Who Watches?
plays are not conformist because of the
suggested social position of the characters. When anyone objects to plays of this kind,
The conformism of these plays is about the directors claim that they are, most import-
lack of any social position.60 antly, accepted by audiences meaning not
Alexandra Rembowska divides in-yer- opening-night, conservative audiences, but
face characters into the stronger (terrorists those of the young, the progressive, and the
and other criminals) and the weaker (the sick, avant-garde: The best reaction to these pro-
addicted, or disabled). The plays are actually vocations came from the young audience,
developing in us a feeling of passive toler- which . . . finally came back to the theatre . . .
ance to universal or local evil, acting like a directly recognizing themselves and their
tranquilizer for the social conscience . . . place in the world.64
convincing us that we cannot help the In Britain, the Royal Court Upstairs and
weaker.61 Or, in Jaroslaw Kilians words: other theatres which stage these kinds of
plays tend to be 60100 seat venues. Nicholas
The new brutalists engage in pseudo-social acti-
vity without any real motivation, which is typical
Hytner, head of Britains National Theatre
for the self-image of bourgeois politics. It is a from 2001, has acknowledged the paradox
conformist theatre which helps the audience keep that, while in the past ten years the National

264
Studio helped develop many new plays, plays.71 The claims for such a coherent trend
these were mainly such small-scale affairs, are countered by audience ambivalence. The
even the Nationals smallest space, the 300- lack of signs of acceptance by new, cool, and
seat Cottesloe, was too big for them, and they radical young people whom they supposedly
have been staged in 100-seat studio theatres address is evidenced by an actual shortage of
such as the Royal Court Upstairs, the Bush, audiences.
and the Soho Theatre.65 Writing in memory Similarly, Die Baracke, the German theatre
of Sarah Kane in New Theatre Quarterly, Dan from which the trend began its conquest of
Rebellato noted that Blasted had been seen by Europe, is a small experimental space with a
just two thousand people.66 Thirty-three per- capacity of fifty people.72 Berlin is a city of
formances in a small venue is the equivalent several million inhabitants. But unlike in
of two packed houses in the National Theatre Britain where awareness of audiences counts,
in Zagreb. (Sierzs estimate was lower, at European theatres are heavily subsidized
1,100.)67 with government money and the media pay
In terms of audience preferences, at the less attention to audience numbers.
Taormina presentation (for the Premio Europa In Hungary all the main representatives
Theatre Prize, 1999), the Royal Court cited of the trend were staged but nothing hap-
their successful playwrights as Sarah Kane, pened.73 It was the same in Bulgaria.74 In
Mark Ravenhill, and Jez Butterworth. How- Sarajevo, Shopping and Fucking and Blasted
ever, the same text suggests the real success had only three or four performances, in
in their theatre between 1994 and 1998 was spite of the fact that there was nudity on the
Martin McDonaghs The Beauty Queen of stage and authors were expecting a big
Leenane.68 Blasted was staged again in London, audience response to this provocation.75
on the second occasion during Kanes retro- The only real European success was of
spective, and once in Glasgow, both for short Shopping and Fucking, which played in Greece
runs. Only Shopping and Fucking reached the for two years.76 A sign of the lesser favour of
West End. David Edgar has commented that: New European Drama with its audiences
Ravenhill, Neilson, Grosso, and Prichard was evident when those watching Kanes
seem properly content being in spaces where Crave, directed by Ostermeier and staged by
the intense theatricality of their work can the Schaubhne, left the performance in
have maximum impact, albeit on a smaller droves (Taormina, 2000).
number of people at any one time.69 Daniel Benoin, at the European Theatre
America did not assimilate these plays to Convention, said: The idea of organizing the
the extent that Europe did. Martin Crimp Berlin festival around this new writing
was resident playwright at New Yorks New sprang from the Forum, and this British
Dramatists in 1991, in an exchange with the movement is still in full force. 77 However, in
Royal Court,70 and in the autumn of 1993 The thirty articles explaining the most important
Treatment was produced at Joseph Papps theatre events in their countries, only two
Public Theatre. Although at that time Crimp from Great Britain and Germany mention
had already had several plays staged (and this trend as significant. Only three others
awarded prizes) in Britain, Romania, and mention single productions: Greece with
Germany, this production did not have a Shopping and Fucking, Bulgaria with Powder
successful run, nor did it bring any other Keg (Dejan Dukovski), and Sweden (Lars
representatives of the trend to New York in Noren).
its wake. The World of Theatre, published every two
No plays from this generation succeeded years by the International Theatre Institute,
in TV or film. Butterworths Mojo was filmed reviews the theatre seasons of numerous
but, sadly, the film version only exposed its countries, mostly ITI members. In the 1994
faulty plot (Sierz). Edgar, affirmative to his 1996 edition, the trend was mentioned once,
younger colleagues, considers that theat- by Ian Herbert, describing the 1996 theatre
ricality is the main characteristic of their season in Great Britain and in reference to

265
interesting new plays staged at the Royal director and writers tutor as you write them. . . .
Court, among them Shopping and Fucking by Youve hopefully written a whole play or a whole
act or something . . . 81
Mark Ravenhill, which he called another
astonishing debut.78 But in the following
edition, covering the seasons from 1996 till This implies she was trained by directors to
2000, such playwrights are mentioned only give a voice to the type of characters the
in a German article, while a Swedish article directors wanted. It appears difficult for her
talks of Lars Noren but nothing else. Even to remember and articulate the process.
Peter Hepple, writing about British theatre Also, with a foregrounded theme of vio-
and the Royal Court, mentioned only The lence, dramatic character tends not to develop
Weir by Conor MacPherson. much, especially under torture. There is
dramatic revelation of hitherto unportrayed
violence on stage, but the world outside
Who Finds the New Plays? which perhaps perpetrates this violence is
So the success of any worthy search for not really known, only vaguely assumed
playwrights conducted to re-authenticate a from distant media or fictional impressions.
tradition of innovative theatre is put in doubt These plays certainly facilitate radical,
when playwrights are sought by directors. open structures in the writing. Max Stafford
Directors choose the plays and speak for the Clark, who directed Shopping and Fucking,
playwrights on the meaning of their plays as said of Ravenhill: He enjoys writing with
merely expressions of the Zeitgeist: in Britain the actors around so his scripts tend to be a
as in-yer-face, and in the rest of Europe bit messy when you first read them. 82 The
identified as New European Drama. writer Anthony Neilson confirmed that: I
The British trend-setters and later the would have less and less of the script
representatives of the New European Drama finished by the time we went into rehearsal.
were young people, usually under twenty- And it got to the point when I was making it
five. As John Elsom said: It was a search for up as we went along.83
young playwrights only, so that the picture The cynical may deduce that British direc-
we got of new drama was very restrictive in tors took young, unformed writers and
age. 79 Not only in age, but in manner: Sarah shaped them into whatever they wanted. At
Kane was dressed in a lot of black, scowled the Royal Courts forum in Taormina, eight
a lot, and got angry with us for our failures to directors and three critics were present, with
communicate with her 80 during her first just one playwright: Rebecca Prichard. While
interview for the Bush. That image became a volunteering no answers to particular ques-
role model angry, unresponsive, all in black. tions Just to say I agree with James 84 she
All British playwrights were discovered was proclaimed a genius by the directors
and developed under directors auspices in present (her most successful play was her
the small theatres mentioned. At a round table third, Yard Gals, in 1998). When I asked the
dedicated to the Royal Court in Taormina, chair, Michael Billington, Where are the
Rebecca Prichard explained how she became playwrights and why do we have directors
a playwright. She saw the leaflet Write a Play explaining playwrights thoughts and inten-
and came to the Royal Court: tions? he replied, Unfortunately the play-
wrights dont have time, and the directors
I went to workshops with other potential play-
do. This question and answer didnt appear
wrights. . . . I met up with directors, we did work- in the published report!
shop exercises around character and hearing how The pressure of the press in Britain makes
to listen to characters voices and present a few playwrights dependent upon their directors.
dialogues and stuff like that, just to get ideas churn- At the above event, Prichard looked to the
ing around and then youre encouraged. . . . You
work with actors and a director and a writers
directors for help whenever someone add-
tutor. . . . As you begin to develop a play through ressed her directly because they knew why
the workshop you can be in consultation with your she was a genius. This is why Kane, like the

266
artist Tracey Emin, became a media figure: she the script and keep their power in theatre.
was articulating from the esoteric world of As Aleksandra Rembowska said, in Poland:
personal nightmare. Directors imposed the
nightmare in the play upon everybody else, The generation of so called young and gifted,
but all were lost in it. The inarticulacy of the mostly pupils of Kristian Lupa, have gained the
theatre power. They found their generational
playwrights solipsistic world, even as experi- links and their unity of expression in staging new
enced, was not expressed precisely in theat- brutalists like Kane, Ravenhill, Mayenburg, Walzer,
rical terms. So everything except the fact of Belbel.89
shocking violence was left in the hands of
directors. Her death was the best thing that When Krzysztof Warlikowski staged Cleansed
could have happened for the directors she and Grzegorz Jarzyna 4.48 Psychosis in the
left them her experience of pain and unarti- 20022003 season, each received controver-
culated pictures of a violent world to be re- sial reviews, but everybody praised the direc-
shaped and reinvented as much as they liked. tors whilst expressing surprise at the thin
literary values of the texts. Even Warlikowski,
having earlier mainly directed classical texts,
The Directors Control over the Playwright
pointed out the weaknesses of Cleansed. So
Similarly, the German playwright, Marius if the performance was interesting or impor-
von Mayenburg was, thin and pale.85 That, tant, it was because of the directors vision
in terms of text, much of the directors not enhanced by it. The individual play-
material reamins unfinished or open, is wright was mentioned briefly or not at all,
exemplified in Austria where most of the while the work was appropriated into the
texts of that trend are unreadable in their fashionable genre.
written version, often without stage direc-
tions and even lacking names of characters,
Every Action has a Consequence
but on stage they come alive.86
Discernibly, then, European directors have Although plays of the brutalist school were
wrested power from playwrights in develop- perhaps not as successful as claimed in terms
ing new plays. In Lithuania, the Independent of audiences, they can be said to have had a
Centre for Education and Information for fivefold impact on twenty-first century inter-
Theatre and Cinema, aided by the Ministry national theatre:
for Culture, set up a project for new play-
writing in 1998, to incite dramatists to write, Positive Impact: on New Writing Exemplified
and directors to stage, new plays.87 In a com- by Lithuanias playwriting competition of
petition for contemporary plays, 36 scripts of 1998, which yielded 36 new works and the
different genres [my italics] were received; but Croatian Ministry of Cultures 2003 award,
in the second phase, Action for New Drama, which generated 58 newly written scripts. By
the young directors who took part . . . chose the end of the nineties, a regrowth of Euro-
plays by British authors. They began to take pean playwriting was apparent.
over, and, as Vasinauskaite notes, the original
First Negative Impact: Oversimplification As
impulse for developing playwrights and
already explained, the term New European
different genres was lost. When Juraj Sebesta
Drama gives a false impression when used
mentions some of the most important new
as synonymous with in-yer-face brutalism,
Slovak playwrights Klimacek, Cicvak, or
especially when a more articulate playwright
Oleksak all are also directors.88
such as David Harrower (Scotland) or Hristo
So the domination of directors over play-
Boytchev (Bulgaria) emerges from outside
wrights appears even stronger in the rest of
the mainstream.
Europe than in Britain. Without the living
presence of the playwright in workshops or Second Negative Impact: Loss of Identity The
during the staging process, directors had influence of spectacular brutalism is exem-
freedom to implement their own vision in plified in the difference between Martin

267
McDonaghs Beauty Queen of Leenane (1996), parents from boredom (Mayensburgs Fire-
where the climax is developed via an inter- face) is not really a issue in Croatian life. And
esting plot and vivid characters, specific in no one in Croatia recognized Jiri Pokornys
their cultural isolation and universally com- Rest in Peace as a Czech play, although
prehensible unhappiness. However, The Lieut- Croatia has many connections with that
enant of Inishmore (2001) ratcheted up the country and knows the culture well.
violence to the detriment of characterization, The emergence and increasing homogen-
with its republican extremist activating noth- eity of New European Drama has resulted in
ing but gratuitous torture and killing. a less localized Zeitgeist being expressed by
Biljana Srbljanovics first play, Belgrade playwrights, whose work thus becomes more
Trilogy, describes three circles of emigrant readily raw material for the directors vision.
Serbs. With just one accidental murder, this Marko Kovacevic, of Sarajevo Drama Aca-
play has a strong political and social impact. demy, remarks that his students bring him
Its characters are warmly infused with life only plays with similar violence, not as
and defined by their social context, in an something immanent to them but as some-
expatriate unhappiness that is fully rendered thing they feel will be accepted.91
and recognizable. The play was invited to
Third Negative Impact: Uniformity of Theme
the Bonner Biennale in a wave of support for
The 2003 festival of childrens theatre, Augen-
the dissident picture of Serbia. Her second
blick Mal in Berlin, invited fifteen produc-
play, Family Stories, was about children play-
tions. Ten were about suicide or murder.
ing at atrocities learned from their parents.
They conduct killings at the end of each scene Fourth Negative: the New Playwright Banished
in a cruel childrens game set in a play- The decline of New European Drama is
ground in one of Belgrades suburbs. But charted in Dromgooles book describing how
despite this specificity, the scene could be in mainstream European theatre directors have
all too many other countries: holes in asphalt, again begun to direct classics. The Sarajevo
broken baskets, ruined lawn between two International Festival of 2003 gave greatest
skyscrapers. A ruined faade covered with prominence to Robert Lepage (Canada),
senseless graffiti . . . 90 Eimuntas Nekrosius (Lithuania), Sasha Waltz
Her third play, Supermarket, was written (Germany), Oskaras Korsunovas (Lithuania),
for a German production and is about child and famous directors from Poland, Slovenia,
molestation. A school for immigrants some- Croatia, the USA, France, Hungary, Bulgaria,
where in Germany is the background to a and Yugoslavia. Established and high-budget
story of harassment and loveless sex. This theatre was conjoined with great direc-
came much closer to the in-yer-face style, at tors. 92
once apolitical and devoid of meaning.
Fifth Negative Impact: Loss of Audience The
When reading plays by the German
Gavella Theatre of Croatia, which until the
Marius von Mayenburg, the Swedish Lars
seventies used to be packed out, is suffering
Noren, or the Norwegian Jon Fosse, its often
a huge decline in audience attendence. While
hard to differentiate: there is an overall non-
it has staged Popcorn (Ben Elton), Ravenhills
direction of geographical, cultural, or political
Some Explicit Polaroids, and just a few classics,
narrative. All merge topics, events, violence,
runs are poor. In attempts to woo back the
and characterization. The same impulse but
audiences the theatre has a new prize-draw
with successful localization of the Zeitgeist is
campaign: you can win a car by purchasing
what distinguished the qualities of Ibsen,
theatre tickets! But the audiences have not
Strindberg, Zola, Shaw, and Chekhov, a cen-
increased.
tury earlier.
Even plays from former Eastern Europe Despite some encouragement of new writing,
contain the same over-dysfunctioning of albeit of a uniform kind, the New European
sexual abuse, and drug- and criminal-related Drama has, then, served mainly as a force to
themes. A topic such as rich kids killing their depopularize theatre in continental Europe.

268
a picture of the whole of society; that the
Realism and the Redefinition of Values
worst kinds of horror are portrayed as a
Poststructuralism and deconstructive theory normal mode of human communication,
have made definitions of meaning and value death as the only exit from pain, or torture as
in art hard to establish or defend. This dis- the only way of expressing love. But plays
ables evidence concerning a plays achieve- structured through blood, drugs, mutilation,
ment of rapport with its audience or society. and killing are still able to uncover an aes-
The conventions of artistic production become thetic of poetry and tenderness for the dis-
relative, defined only at a particular moment cerning director. Ostermeier can claim that in
in time from one particular standpoint. How- Shopping and Fucking the rape is the true
ever, in view of there being a standpoint at instant of love;95 David Graham that Cleansed
all, then there can be some evaluation. is just a collection of poetic pictures,96 and Max
New European Drama tended to represent Stafford-Clark that Shopping is an optimistic
isolated groupings. Their often marginalized play.
world is shown as the only possible world. This is less deconstruction than misinter-
Drug addicts, prostitutes, incestuous families, pretation. Hatred is detached and interchange-
crazy or lost characters are given centre stage. able love. Unfortunately, its referent pain
Ostermeiers endorsement is, Ordinary life still leaves physical scars on the body and is
is inexorable, 93 and Anna Reading summar- less easily detached from what humanity
izes her play Failing: Because life is like that. 94 knows as the discourse of terrorism and
As we know, the majority of us do not kill atrocity. Any vestiges of love are found only
or maim our lovers, mutilate or sleep with in sadisms inversions and the fascist appli-
our closest relatives. So in-yer-face dramas cation of curative treatments in the name of
tend to simplify what is in fact a richly progress or cleansing.
diverse but nevertheless conformist web of Yet it is critics of New European Drama
human life under the pretence that unique, who are proclaimed morally conservative or
extremist events are the only reality. With right wing. Ostermeier accused Peter Handke,
often undefined locations for the action, we Botho Strauss, and many older actors in
have to assume the archetypal. But the arche- Germany of being right wing because they
typal is then denied in a world without a believed in values such as family, state, or
moral axis. We have already had a world religion, and he claims that Polish audiences
without God and a world dominated by evil could not accept Mayenburgs Fireface because
in European theatre. We have already experi- their society is closely based on those values.97
enced murder without motivation (Camuss
The Stranger, Ionescos The Lesson), or ran-
The Directors Trick or Treat?
dom gestures in the night where God will
never come (Becketts Godot). These were The new playwrights were supposed to tell
presented as iconic of the absurd. us something relevant about ourselves, not
But Kane, for example, does not present just express a cold directorial vision pack-
torture as something abhorrent which needs aged in an expensive production. Oster-
explanation, but something ordinary and meiers aim was to search not for new plays,
actually justified. In these plays if the victim but those that could express a new realism.98
does not crave it, they deserve it (Blasted); No one can truthfully accept that rape is an
within the sanatorium, mutilation is offered act of love, but directors are prepared to
as a cure for financial problems (Shopping and claim this.99 If the audience demands real-
Fucking), so the victim should be grateful for ism, that is what it shall have! And serve it
the treatment lending authenticity: Only the right once it realizes it has got what it asked
pain is real, as Donny says in Faust is Dead for. (Or: if you dont stop crying Ill give you
(Ravenhill). something to cry about!)
It is disturbing that subgroups of human The particular elements of this theatre as
existence become metonymically imposed as defined above must send an associated mes-

269
sage to its target audience young people. plays, the absolutism of evil itself is dis-
We have to get the kids in, says Dromgoole played to a young target audience.
of small venues in the nineties, was the
patronizing mantra that used to ring around
Resisting the Pressure
theatreland.100 Stephen Daldry argued that
audiences no longer wanted old-fashioned Of course there are plays and artworks con-
thesis plays.101 But these plays have a thesis: ducive to thought-provoking, life-changing,
that in this world of victims and victimizers and constructive feelings, even when their
the characters strive only for pain and only subjects are dark and heavy. But to defend
torturers know what their victims need works of this sort may give rise to accusa-
(Cleansed). So any action to change these situ- tions of being right wing or even fascist. By
ations is useless. New European Drama is objecting to a dominant trend (especially
not fighting for a better society in a political with its economic potential), one will never
sense, but numbing our social consciences be a trend-setter. Directors must recommend
even more deeply than Thatcherite policies plays that they personally hate, direct plays
did those of Britains children. they dislike, and encourage playwrights be-
As with the horror-movies genre, includ- cause they are exemplary of the trend.
ing even (and perhaps because of) the ironies A play by the Bulgarian playwright Hristo
of Tarantinos violence, New European Drama Boytchev, Colonel Bird, is a warm and humor-
serves to increase an audiences tolerance ous story about forgotten asylum patients
towards the evil it plays out. I do not claim who become soldiers when one day a box
that everybody who sees killing on TV goes containing soldiers uniforms and food falls
around killing people, but evil as some- from the sky into their hospital. A previously
thing omnipresent and omnipotent helps silent patient wakes up as Colonel Bird and
to familiarize it as part of our everyday lives. leads them all to Strasbourg, in perfect mili-
In Blasted, people complained about the tary formation. There is no violence, much
atrocities on stage. A few years later Snatch empathy, and a dark side to the drama. The
(Royal Court) provoked no more than a play tells more about our society, without
squirm. On stage we see a girl raped, and real violence on the stage, than most of the
when she and her torturer swap bodies she New European Drama.
(now in the male body) encourages the other Rene Medvesek is a Croatian actor who
boy to rape the girl again, so that the rapist became a director out of artistic frustration
can feel it. Then she mutilates her man- with the options that other directors offered
hood, and blinds another boy. Despite blood him. Through actors games he has created
everywhere, no one objected too loudly, pure emotion and offered it to the audience
because the level of tolerance to violence on in productions like Bucket (1998), Brother Ass
stage is much higher than even ten years ago. (2001), and Wilders Our Town (2004). Miro
It is likely that the play would not have been Gavran is also recouping dramatic emotion
written had not directors influence been a within a storyline (All About Women), and his
stimulant to writing in the genre. last play, How to Kill the President, is real
With nihilistic violence and horror pre- political theatre. Lydia Scheuerman Hodaks
sented as the new cool, such attitudes perpe- Marias Pictures is a womans story of the
tuate cynicism and confusion. Conveying a Croatian war that, without showing any of
vision of a depressed world with nothing but the atrocities, says more about the war in the
drugs or violence as means of escape can be former Yugoslavia than all the undefined,
frustrating. Human creative strivings for pro- context-free violence of the New European
ductivity, procreation, peace (of mind) and Drama.
good health, when denied these ideals, will A new sensibility, akin to modern roman-
naturally develop insecurity and depression ticism, is developing. This drama cries out
on a deeper level, as rats do in a cage. With not only for new conventions but also for a
such strong relativism towards evil in these critical response. But without media acclaim

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it is difficult find encouragement. Hristo 24. Aleks Sierz, In-Yer-Face Theatre, op. cit., p. 236.
25. Ibid., p. 96 and 234.
Boytchev may be a forerunner, and there 26. Ken Urban, Towards a Theory of Cruel Britania:
may well be playwrights hidden in other Coolness, Cruelty and the Nineties, New Theatre Quar-
countries by the silence of the press. With terly, No. 80 (2004), p. 360.
27. Philip Roberts, The Royal Court Theatre and the
just a fraction of the media attention that Modern Stage (Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 222.
New European Drama has received, audi- 28. Aleks Sierz, In-Yer-Face Theatre, op. cit., p. 96.
ences and writers may become better aware 29. As was said in Taormina, 1999.
30. In September 1999 her brother, Simon Kane, had
of this innovation, which could resolve or to issue a press release pointing out that although her
salve a theatregoing situation in which the last play, 4:48 Psychosis, deals with suicidal despair, it
shortage of contextalized moral concern is was not a thinly veiled suicide note. See Aleks Sierz, In
Yer-Face Theatre, op. cit., p. 90.
matched by a shortage of audiences. 31. Simon Hattenstone, And Now Hurray, op. cit.
32. Michael Billington, Blasted, The Guardian, 5 May
Notes and References 2001.
33. Aleks Sierz, Cool Britannia: In-Yer-Face Writing
1. As J. G. Frazer suggested in The Golden Bough. in the British Theatre Today, New Theatre Quarterly, No.
2. Roberto Ciulli, The Fate of the Text in Todays 56 (1998), p. 32433.
Theatre, IATC Symposium, Novi Sad, 2002, p. 144. 34. Aleks Sierz, Still In Yer Face, op. cit.
3. Ivana Mikulic, Ill Show that Slavenka Drakulic is 35. Ibid.
as Controversial as Sarah Kane, Jutarnji list,p. 2. 36. Petra Pogorevc, I Didnt See It Either, Maska,
4. Franco Quadri, New European Drama: Art or Nos. 56 (2001), p. 31.
Commercial Product?, IATC Symposium, Novi Sad, 2003 37. Graham Whybrow in New European Drama: Art
(discussion). or Commercial Product?, op. cit. (discussion, as noted).
5. Thomas Ostermeier, The Theatre at the Time of 38. Aleks Sierz, New European Drama: Art or
its Acceleration, Writing for the Theatre Today, Fourth Commercial Product?, op. cit. (discussion, as noted).
European Theatre Forum, 1999, p. 244. 39. Jack Bradley and Graham Whybrow, New Euro-
6. Gorcin Stojanovic, The Fate of the Text in Todays pean Drama: Art or Commercial Product?, op. cit. (manu-
Theatre, op. cit., p. 154. script).
7. Thomas Irmer, Looking Back and Forward in 40. Thomas Ostermeier, The Theatre at the Time of
New European Drama: Art or Commercial Product?, op. cit. its Acceleration, Writing for the Theatre Today, op. cit., p.
(manuscript). 244.
8. Anna Lypkivska, Ukrainian Theater: on an Uneasy 41. Ulrike Kahle, New Departures: the Young
Path to Self-Awareness, in Kalina Stefanova, Eastern Euro- Generation Is Coming, Writing for the Theatre Today, op.
pean Theater after the Iron Curtain (London: Harwood, cit., p. 14.
2000), p. 231. 42. Anja Sovagovic, Why I Refused to Play Phaedra,
9. Ramune Marcinkeviciute New Seasons of Hope Kazaliste, Nos. 910 (2002), p. 2548.
and Crisis, in Kalina Stefanova, op. cit., p. 104. 43. FTA , 2003.
10. Writing for the Theatre Today, Fourth European 44. Dorota Cirlic Mentzel Sometimes We Have to
Theatre Forum, 1999. All essays were published in a Descend into Hell in Our Imagination in Order Not to
special issue of Du Thtre, Paris, November 2000. Arrive There in Reality, New European Drama: Art or
11. Nina Kiraly, The Fate of the Text in Todays Theatre, Commercial Product?, op. cit. (manuscript).
op. cit., p. 160. 45. Jasen Boko, Theatre Is Still Led by Cowards,
12. Jovan Hristic, The Fate of the Text in Todays Slobodna Dalmacija, 13 March 2001.
Theatre, op. cit., p. 154. 46. Thomas Irmer, Looking Back and Forward: the
13. Kalina Stefanova, , op. cit. German Story of New Drama, New European Drama: Art
14. Ulrike Kahle, New Departures: the Young Gener- of Commercial Product?, op. cit. (manuscript).
ation is Coming, Writing for the Theatre Today, op. cit., p. 13. 47. Ibid.
15. Gordana Ostovic, Theatre as Weapon for Life, 48. Dubravko Torjanac, Marius von Mayenburg,
Vijenac, 15 June 2000. Kazaliste, Nos. 910 (2002), p. 283.
16. David Edgar in New European Drama: Art or 49. Thomas Irmer, Looking Back and Forward: the
Commercial Product?, op. cit. (manuscript without title). German Story of New Drama, in New European Drama:
17. Graham Whybrow, New European Drama: Art or Art or Commercial Product?, op. cit. (manuscript).
Commercial Product?, op. cit. (manuscript). 50. Nina Kiraly, The Hero of the Contemporary East
18. Aleks Sierz, In-Yer-Face Theatre (London: Faber, European Drama, New European Drama: Art or Com-
2001), p. 234. mercial Product?, op. cit. (manuscript).
19. Aleks Sierz, Still In Yer Face, New Theatre 51. Barbara Burckhardt, I Am Rather Dead or Drunk,
Quarterly, No. 69 (2002), p. 23. in Marius von Mayenburg Fireface, playbill, Slovenian
20. Simon Hattenstone, And Now Hurray, The City Theatre, 2001, p. 5, translated from Theater Heute,
Guardian, 1 July 2000. No. 5 (1998).
21. Ibid. 52. Thomas Irmer, Looking Back and Forward: the
22. Aleks Sierz, In-Yer-Face Theatre, op. cit., p. 93. German Story of New Drama, New European Drama: Art
23. Jack Bradley, If Its Tuesday, It Must be or Commercial Product?, op. cit. (manuscript).
Belgrade!, New European Drama: Art or Commercial 53. Interview with Sarah Kane, in Sarah Kane:
Product?, op. cit. (manuscript). Cleansed, playbill, Slovenian National Theatre, Ljubljana,

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2001, p. 45. Translation of an interview from Playspot- 79. John Elsom, New European Drama: Art or Com-
ting: die Londoner Theaterscene der 90er (Hamburg, 1998). mercial Product?, op. cit. (discussion).
54. Aleks Sierz, Still In Yer Face, op. cit., p. 21. 80. Dominic Dromgoole, The Full Room (London:
55. Anne Ubersfeld, New European Dram:a: Art or Methuen, 2000), p. 161.
Commercial Product?, op. cit. (discussion, as noted). 81. Rebecca Prichard, The Royal Court on Stage,
56. Aleks Sierz, In-Yer-Face Theatre, op. cit., p. 238. Sur les traces de Pina (Seventh Europe Theatre Prize),
57. Jasen Boko, New European Drama, Kazaliste, p. 133.
Nos. 9-10, p. 15870. 82. Max Stafford-Clark, Planned Offensive, The Stage,
58. Andrej Jaklic, When I Do Not Feel, Doesnt 4 January 2001.
Matter, Sarah Kane, Cleansed, playbill, op. cit., p. 8. 83. Aleks Sierz, In-Yer-Face Theatre, op. cit., p. 67.
59. Ibid., p. 9. 84. Rebecca Prichard, op. cit., p. 119.
60. Dorota Cirlic Mentzel, Sometimes We Have to 85. Barbara Burckhardt, I Am Rather Dead or
Descend into Hell in Our Imagination in Order Not to Drunk, op. cit.
Arrive There in Reality, in New European Drama: Art or 86. Cornelia Niedermeier, New European Drama: Art
Commercial Product?, op. cit. (manuscript). or Commercial Product?, op. cit. (as noted).
61. Aleksandra Rembowska Who are Strong and 87. Rasa Vasinauskaite, The Classics are Dead, Long
Who are Weak in the Contemporary Drama and Theatre, Live the Classics, Writing for the Theatre Today, op. cit.,
New European Drama: Art or Commercial Product?, op. cit., p. 103.
(manuscript). 88. Juraj Sebesta, New and Cool, New European
62. Jaroslaw Kilian Modern Playwriting: a Chal- Drama: Art or Commercial Product?, op. cit. (manuscript).
lenge, Risk, or a Chance, in New European Drama: Art or 89. Aleksandra Rembowska, Who are Strong and
Commercial Product?, op. cit. (manuscript). Who are Weak in the Contemporary Drama and Theatre,
63. Aleks Sierz, In-Yer-Face Theatre, op. cit., p. 1001. New European Drama: Art or Commercial Product?, op. cit.
64. Jasen Boko, New European Drama, p. 15870. (manuscript).
65. Aleks Sierz, Still In Yer Face, op. cit., p. 23. 90. Biljana Srbljanovic, The Fall, p. 89.
66. Dan Rebellato, Sarah Kane: an Appreciation, 91. Marko Kovacevic, New European Drama: Art or
New Theatre Quarterly, No. 59 (1999), p. 280. Commercial Product?, op. cit. (discussion).
67. Aleks Sierz, In-Yer-Face Theatre, op. cit., p. 105. 92. Darko Lukic, Croatia, in The World of Theatre
68. Europe Theatre Prize 1999, p. 27. (2004), p. 54.
69. David Edgar, New European Drama: Art or 93. Thomas Ostermeier, The Theatre at the Time of
Commercial Product?, op. cit. (untitled manuscript). its Acceleration, Writing for the Theatre Today, op. cit.,
70. The Treatment, playbill. p. 250, 248.
71. David Edgar, New European Drama: Art or 94. Aleks Sierz, In-Yer-Face Theatre, op. cit., p. 233.
Commercial Product? op. cit. 95. Thomas Ostermeier, The Theatre at the Time of
72. Martin Linzer, Germany, in The World of Theatre Its Acceleration, Writing for the Theatre Today, op. cit.,
(London; New York: Routledge, 2000), p. 114. p. 250.
73. Laslo Berczes, New European Drama: Art or 96. David Greig, Introduction, Sarah Kane, Com-
Commercial Product?, op. cit. (manuscript). plete Plays (London: Methuen).
74. Natasa Kourteva, New European Drama: Art or 97. Jasen Boko, Theatre Is Still Led by Cowards,
Commercial Product?, op. cit. (manuscript). Slobodna Dalmacija, op. cit.
75. Marko Kovacevic, New European Drama: Art or 98. Thomas Ostermeier, The Theatre at the Time of
Commercial Product?, op. cit. (manuscript). its Acceleration, Writing for the Theatre Today, op. cit.,
76. Dio Kaguelari, Greek Theatre in Last Year of p. 244.
Century, Writing for the Theatre Today, op. cit., p. 7980. 99. Ibid., p. 250.
77. Writing for the Theatre Today, op. cit., p. 2. 100. Dominic Dromgoole, The Full Room, op. cit.,
78. Ian Herbert, New Places and New Spaces, The p. 278.
World of Theatre 1994 (1997), p. 328. 101. Aleks Sierz, In-Yer-Face Theatre, op. cit., p. 132.

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