Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Dr. Anthony Brennan




This thesis examines the different tendencies found in alternative theatre movements in British theatre in the twentieth century, with a particular emphasis on the achievements of the popular political theatre companies in the period after 1968. "Alternative" and "political" are terms most commonly associated with developments in the late sixties and early seventies, but the thesis will demonstrate that there are stronger connections between the prewar and postwar periods of experimentation than are generally recognized. The broad historical framework is designed specifically to reveal the patterns and cycles which characterize the emergence and evolution of alternative theatre movements. It begins with an historical survey of the prewar period, followed by a discussion of the main issues related to the postwar movement, leading ultimately to a detailed case study of a specific theatre company. The thesis relies on historical and sociological approaches to cultural production in order to demonstrate that social, political, and economic factors account to a large extent for the kind of theatre which is produced in any given period. This is intended to redress the inability of more conventionally elitist and text-based dramatic criticism to include rich popular traditions. The study is concerned with reasons why alternative theatre companies defined themselves in opposition to mainstream theater and the form this opposition took in terms of their socialist/democratic politics, non-hierarchical modes of production, performance styles, the redefinition of theatrical venues, and the attempts to reach more broadly-based and culturally dispossessed audiences. The thesis also argues that in these oppositional tendencies can be found some of the most important developments in stage language in this century, and that alternative theatre has provided a constant source of renewal for the mainstream tradition.

McMaster University Library

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