The Awkward Squad: Is there a place for the feminist play in contemporary mainstream popular theatre?

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Abstract

As documented by Aston and Harris in their recent publication ‘A Good Night out for the Girls: Popular Feminisms in Contemporary Theatre and Performance’ there is recent evidence of popular feminisms being presented on the mainstream West End stage. They cite Dolan’s argument that, mainstream theatre is ‘a place admittedly within capitalism (and within dominant ideology) [that] could be advantageous’ in order to explore issues, ideas, arguments both personal and political addressing feminism(s) ‘as a critique or value circulating within our most commercial theatre’ (2008,p 434/5). In what is accepted as an era of postfeminism, Janelle Reinelt observes there are still concerns about ‘inequality, free expression, power and respect' which she discusses as ‘a feminist residue from the second wave’ (2007 p20). This paper will attempt to draw these two ideas together through exploring the writing, the making and the response to the Awkward Squad. The Awkward Squad (http://theawkwardsquadplay.com/index.php) is a two act comic drama written by BAFTA winning playwright and daughter of a striking miner, Karin Young, which toured nationally in 2012. Described by Gerry Harris as ‘a feminist play’ (2014 p190). The Awkward Squad explores the current impact of the miners’ strike on a family of women politicised by the dispute over 30 years ago. In reference to both the text and the context of the piece, it will be argued that it offers three important interrogations of the current feminist agenda in theatre and performance. Firstly it moves attention from feminism as an individual project to the collective experience of gender and material disadvantage, and to the possibility of feminism as having potential for collective transformation. Secondly the work adopts popular theatre strategies, encouraging identification with the voices of those women activists. And lastly the piece speaks for and to a marginalised female voice particularly that of the older working class women. Dolan, J. (2008) Feminist Performance Criticism and the Popular: Reviewing Wendy Wasserstein. Theatre Journal 60, pp. 433 – 57. Harris G. (2014) Post-postfeminism? Amelia Bullmore’s Di and Viv and Rose, April de Angelis’s Jumpy and Karin Young’s The Awkward Squad, Contemporary Theatre Review, 24:2, 177-191. Reinelt, J. (2007) Navigating Post feminism: Writing Out of the Box in Aston, E. and Harris, G. (eds) Feminist Futures? Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.

Conference

ConferenceCongruence and Contestation: Contemporary Feminism and Performance
Period4/09/15 → …
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