black theatre


black theatre
   Black theatre occupies an interdisciplinary space which integrates an eclectic fusion of Afro-diasporic and black British literary-based dramatic text, music, song, dance, various media, linguistic forms, live art and performance art. By creating a diachronically and culturally resonant black vernacular inscribed with issues of identity, representation, tradition and history, black theatre dismantles the conventional structures of an exclusively white or Eurocentric theatre inclined to marginalize black experience.
   A nascent black theatre involved Royal Court productions of Errol John’s Moon on a Rainbow Shawl (1958), followed by a trilogy of Barry Reckord plays. During the 1960s and 1970s, other Caribbean- born dramatists such as Mustapha Matura, Alfred Fagon and Edgar White emerged to explore migrant identities, colonial legacies and conditions of exile, displacement and conflict between Caribbean and British culture.
   In 1970, an Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) series of Black and White Power plays featured Mustapha Matura’s first play Black Pieces, productions concerning the 1960s American civil rights and Black Power movements, and a general desire for cross-cultural articulations fortifying black artistic activity in Britain. The Dark and Light and Temba Theatre companies, along with fringe and specifically black venues like London’s Keskidee Arts Centre and The Factory, produced myriad black plays during the politically inspired 1970s. A subsequent generation of black British-born playwrights such as Tunde Ikoli and Caryl Phillips offered visceral dissections of cultural and intragenerational conflicts in plays like Phillips’s Strange Fruit (1979). Their advancement of a predominantly male and politically based theatre which passionately responded to issues including racism, immigration, disenfranchised black youth and communities were soon diversified by the feminist concerns of 1980s black female dramatists like Jacqueline Rudet, Paulette Randall, Winsome Pinnock and Jackie Kay, whose black lesbian feminist choreopoem Chiaroscuro (1986) embraced kaleidoscopic performative techniques. Amali Nepthali’s Ragamuffin hybridized Caribbean popular traditions and black popular and political culture to collapse boundaries between its MC performers and audience. With an emphasis on communality and orature (for example, Benjamin Zephaniah’s dub poetry plays), black theatre also demonstrates its polyphonic nature through revisionist adaptations of Western classics like Talawa Theatre Company’s King Lear (1993) and A Doll’s House (1996). Other companies such as Black Mime Theatre (1984) amplify continuing discussions about a British black theatre aesthetic. Alongside Talawa, however, the Black Theatre Cooperative (1979) is the only other fully funded British black theatre company, a serious infra-structural underfunding which threatens a vital British theatre dramatic narrative.
   Further reading
    Tompsett, A.R. (1996) Black Theatre In Britain, London: Harwood Academic Publishers (a valuable introduction to black theatre theory and practice).
   SATINDER CHOHAN

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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