The dystopian near-future in contemporary British drama

Reid, Trish (2019) The dystopian near-future in contemporary British drama. Journal of Contemporary Drama in English, 7(1), pp. 72-88. ISSN (print) 2195-0156


This paper addresses the theme of fear and anxiety in contemporary drama and performance through a consideration of the trope of the dystopian near-future as it has re-occurred in a significant number of recent British plays. It takes as its starting point the contention that the prevalence and persistence of this motif makes it worthy of investigation. The plays under discussion do not re-inscribe socio-political problems, or the status quo, by pretending to be objective records of the real world. Instead they create alternative fictional near-future worlds, exploratory dystopias that deliberately perform anxiety-inducing and estranging critical interrogations of current cultural and political concerns. Drawing on the work of Raymond Williams this essay seeks to show that the critical and emotional insights offered by these play-worlds are made possible only through the process of our pondering their strangeness. Each example stages its own particular disruption of theatrical realism and in so doing engages critically both with the British realist theatrical tradition, and also with the wider cultural discourses about ‘truth’ and ‘reality’ that haunt our contemporary neoliberal moment and the emotions these discourses produce.

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