chapter  10
16 Pages

'Irritating Tricks': Aesthetic Experimentation and Political Theatre

Both the content and the fonns which dominated the mainstream ofBritish theatrical practice through the twenties and thirties looked backwards rather than forwards. These perspectives were challenged by a left-wing movement comprised of overlapping but distinct strands. The Workers' Theatre Movement, Unity Theatre, Left Theatre, Group Theatre and Theatre of Action introduced a range of new techniques and forms which included agit-prop, cartoon plays, living newspapers, mass declamations, poetic dramas, political pantomimes and political pageants. Yet the principal strength attributed to left-wing theatre - somewhat patronisingly acknowledged even by those not sympathetic towards its politics - has usually been the conviction of its performers. Actors were not merely reciting a playwright's lines to earn a living, but expressing personal beliefS: 'There was no shamming ... all of us believed passionately in what we were doing and what we were saying.'2