The Latymer School History Magazine - page 11

A rehearsal for the very first
performance of Oh, What a
Lovely War
comedy quickly becoming
the most popular type of
play. These restoration
comedies mainly focused on
aristocratic life, although
most other classes were
represented to some extent,
and were often sexually
explicit. ‘Asides’ were a
common feature of this style
of play, used to instil within
the audience a sense of
dramatic irony. Many of the
stories involved a husband
turning into a cuckold (a
person with horns) after their
wife had been unfaithful.
Ridiculous at first glance, the
restoration era was
significant for the theatre as
it was the first time that
professional actresses were
seen on the stage; the first
step in evening the gender
imbalance of theatre as a
whole.
The Victorian period saw a
dramatic shift from the
Restoration period in the
purpose of theatre. The more
morally conscious 19th
century England was focused
on conveying a moral
message in its theatre and
felt comfort in the familiar
structure and stock
characters of the melodrama.
At its core, the cast of the
melodrama usually
comprised a hero, a ‘damsel
in distress’ and a villain. The
primary message of all the
plays in this genre was that
that good would always
prevail over evil: the hero
would defeat the villain and
win the hand of the damsel
in distress. However, some
playwrights attempted to
break from these
conventions: in Henrik
Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House”, for
example, women are
empowered and given their
own voice, which was
incredibly radical at the time.
The 20th century saw the rise
to prominence of ground-
breaking drama practitioners
whose work is still influential
and relevant today. Bertolt
Brecht focussed on the
politicisation of the theatre,
and changed the way the
theatre as a whole was
viewed. He did this by
challenging the conventions
of a rigid storyline and
distancing the audience from
the action in the play to
become more self-aware; he
wanted people to see the
flaws in the society in which
they lived. His theories were
built upon in the 1960s by
Joan Littlewood in Oh, What
a Lovely War! which helped
many realise that the
German people, considered
the enemies of Europe after
two world wars, were human
beings just like the audience.
Stanislavski famously
stressed the deeper
exploration of character to
allow the actor to give a
more authentic and organic
performance. His ideas have
become second nature to
most modern day actors and
have been further developed
more recently by Max
Stafford-Clark so as to
animate political views.
The theatre had been
shaped by the significant
events in history and has
evolved alongside humans
as it reflects the views and
priorities of society as a
whole. However, theatre has
also played a significant role
in educating people
throughout history, be it with
regard to religion, morality
or even political ideas.
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