Festivals of the oppressed

Winter 1987

In 1980s Britain the arts are locked in a ‘war’ between avant-garde modernism and that which would replace it: the post- or anti-modern phenomenon of empty spectacle. In the 1960s and 70s the theatre was the main literary mouthpiece of the left, but under Thatcherism has been slow to adapt. Now that the arts have been overwhelmed by a revival of spectacle, what kind of play should the left employ to best tackle modern social reality? Edgar’s Entertaining Strangers, a promenade piece inspired by Bakhtin’s theory of carnival, goes some way to answering this question. Edgar laments the death of traditional British forms of performance culture, such as the ‘mummers play’, observing that most countries have more of a cultural reservoir to draw on. Carnival is the best that can be mustered in Britain, able to bring theatre into real (social) space and away from the sealed-off ‘illusion’ of playhouses. Edgar considers Augusto Boal’s work and his ‘Jester’ in relation to carnival and the Lord of Misrule. Finally, he concludes that the only way to fight the purveyors of hollow spectacle is to somehow fuse the ideas of Brecht with the performance strategies of carnival.

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