Remediating the real
Verbatim plays on television in the new millennium
in Screen plays
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Verbatim theatre, a type of drama based on actual words spoken by real people, has enjoyed a remarkable and unexpected renaissance in Britain since the mid-1990s. This chapter argues that the television presentation of verbatim theatre plays raises important questions about aesthetic experimentation and political significance in contemporary culture. Drawing on Bolter and Grusin’s theory of remediation, the chapter also charts the complex ways in which both the political and aesthetic contours of verbatim theatre are reconfigured in the translation of the plays from stage to television. Through a comparative analysis of the Tricycle Theatre’s Justifying War (2004) and Gregory Burke’s Black Watch (2007), this study explores whether the move away from theatre implies a change of function and therefore a change of identity for verbatim theatre. Dividing the discussion of the plays into two main sections—the first concerning ‘immediacy’ and ‘hypermediacy’ and the second their political dimension—the chapter posits that the new context of mediation redefines the audience’s engagement with verbatim theatre.

The second section also interrogates whether the identified shift that verbatim theatre undergoes in the translation to television inevitably involves a process of depoliticisation, thus endeavouring to articulate the friction between verbatim theatre’s political purposes and the reverberation of television as a journalistic medium. The conclusion reached is that verbatim plays serve an oppositional politics, the voice of which is amplified by television. The chapter thus not only documents the significance of verbatim plays on television in the first decade of the twenty-first century but also contributes to a broader scholarly discussion about verbatim theatre as cultural intervention within a contested and contradictory field of engagement.

Screen plays

Theatre plays on British television

Editors: Amanda Wrigley and John Wyver

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