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11 - Theater without Borders? Tracing the Transnational Value of German Theater beyond Germany: A UK Case Study

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 October 2020

James Hodkinson
Affiliation:
University of Warwick UK
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Summary

IN JANUARY 2017, the British playwright David Hare found himself at the center of a debate about the state of UK theater. In an interview with Jeffrey Sweet, Hare expressed his concern over the extent to which British theatrical traditions were being eroded in the face of corrupting influences from abroad: “Now we’re heading in Britain towards an over aestheticized European theater,” he told Sweet, “and all that directorial stuff that we’ve managed to keep over on the continent is now coming over and beginning to infect our theater.” Hare's comments gained considerable attention in the British press, coinciding as they did with a wider debate about Britain's relationship with Europe, the result of the UK’s 2016 referendum on its membership of the European Union. In particular, Hare's theatrically “Eurosceptic” tone stood in opposition to the predominantly pro-European stance of the UK's creative and cultural sector. The largest network of UK-based theater professionals, UK Theatre, published a briefing note in 2017 that voiced its members’ concern that Brexit “may lead to a decline in the sector's ability to produce world class art,” with one-third to half of theater staff in Britain being non-UK European citizens. This, combined with the potential loss of European funding and the end to freedom of movement, could, according to UK Theatre, potentially result in the UK “losing opportunities for cultural and artistic exchange.” In a direct response to Hare in the Guardian, theater critic Lyn Gardner similarly emphasized the politically peculiar timing of his comments, highlighting how, “with a hard Brexit on the horizon, the arts world is working hard to strengthen its ties with Europe,” rather than withdrawing into an “insular” national culture that “feels threatened by other forms.”

Hare's interview not only appeared to demand a form of cultural secession for the United Kingdom; it was also voiced, problematically, in terms that chimed with wider anti-European rhetoric. Invoking the image of an island nation that has successfully defended its theatrical borders against foreign invasion, his comments echoed a form of conservative cultural nostalgia for the political tradition of splendid isolation.

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Chapter
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German in the World
The Transnational and Global Contexts of German Studies
, pp. 216 - 235
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2020

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