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Modern Theatre and the London Stage

Course outline and outcomes

This course examines some of the key playwrights and movements of late nineteenth-century and twentieth-century theatre in Britain and Europe. It aims to develop critical understanding of major plays, many of which have had an important influence on both European and American drama.

The study of theatre as performance will be emphasised throughout the course and full use will be made of suitable productions as they occur on the London stage. Previous students have been to a range of London productions, from Ancient Greek drama, to plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries, as well as more modern playwrights, including those writing today.

Each classroom session will involve a variety of teaching methods, including workshops and videos, with an emphasis on group discussions and readings, and student activities: students will be asked to prepare short presentations for particular sessions.

We will look at the different crafts which are involved in each production, and, after theatre visits, examine the way in which directing, acting, sets, costumes, lighting, sound and other elements contribute to the overall success of each performance. In addition to the productions, a backstage tour of the National Theatre and a visit to the Theatre and Performance Galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum will be arranged where possible.

Learning Outcomes

By end of the course, students will have:

  • Gained an understanding of the history of modern European and British theatre.
  • Engaged with a range of major modern European and British plays and playwrights.
  • Enhanced their understanding of how plays work in performance and of the processes of theatrical production.
  • Surveyed a range of critical perspectives related to modern European and British theatre.
  • Developed their ability to think and write critically about plays and performances.

Coursework and assessment

Assessed component Basic requirements Weighting Deadline
Essay 2000-2500 words 60% Week 10


Two questions, one of which will be a compulsory exercise 40% Week 14

There are also four compulsory theatre trips which take place in the evening. These change each semester and are informed by what is showing in London at the time.

Students need to attend all classes and performances. Please remember that your grades can be affected by your attendance.

Course texts

Texts of the plays being studied that semester and critical reading in support of those plays.

Required Reading

Plays (in the order they are studied on the course)

Week 3: Strindberg, Johan August, Miss Julie and Other Plays, trans. by Michael Robinson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)

Week 4: Ibsen, Henrik, Four Major Plays, trans. by James McFarlane (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998)

Week 6: Pirandello, Luigi, Liolà, trans. by Tanya Ronder (London: Nick Hern Books, 2013)

Week 7: Coward, Noel, Private Lives (Any Edition)

Week 8: Brecht, Bertolt, The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui (Modern Plays): Vol 6, trans. by Ralph Manheim (London: Methuen, 1981)

Week 9: Beckett, Samuel, Waiting for Godot (Any edition)

Week 10: Matura, Mustapha, Welcome Home Jacko (Any Edition)

Week 11: Churchill, Caryl, Top Girls (Any edition)

Week 12: Reza, Yasmina, Art, trans. by Christopher Hampton (New York: Faber and Faber, 1996)

Week 13: Wertenbaker, Timberlake, Our Ajax (Any Edition)

Critical Reading
(in the order it is required to be read for the course)

Week 2: Mick Wallis and Simon Shepherd, Studying Plays (London: Hodder, 2002) pp.1-40

Week 2: Elinor Fuchs ‘EF’s Visit to a Small Planet: Some Questions to Ask a Play’, Theater, 34:2 (2004) 4-9

Week 3: Michael Robinson (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to August Strindberg (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009) pp.20-34

Week 4: James MacFarlane (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Ibsen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994) pp.68-88

Week 4: Eric Bentley (ed.) The Theory of the Modern Stage (London: Penguin, 1992) pp.351-373

Week 5: Simon Shepherd, The Cambridge Introduction to Modern British Theatre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009) pp.1-64

Week 6: Richard Gilman, The Making of Modern Drama (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1999) pp. 157-189

Week 7: John Lahr, Coward the Playwright (LA: University of California Press, 2002) pp.59-71

Week 8: Meg Mumford, Bertolt Brecht (Abingdon: Routledge, 2009) pp.48-90

Week 9: Martin Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd (London: Eyre and Spottiswood, 1962) pp.13-21

Week 10: Colin Chambers, Black and Asian Theatre in Britain (London: Routledge, 2011) – Chapter 6: Black Theatre, 1970-1980

Week 10: Kwesi Owusu (ed.) Black British Culture & Society (London: Routledge, 2000) pp. 275-285

Week 11: Elaine Aston and Janelle Reinelt (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Modern British Women Playwrights (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000) pp.174-193

Week 12: Amanda Giguere, The Plays of Yasmina Reza on the English and American Stage (Jefferson: MacFarlane, 2010) pp. 42-86

Week 13: Jane Milling, Modern British Playwriting: the 1980s (London: Methuen Drama, 2012) – Chapter on Timberlake Wertenbaker