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Verbatim Theatre and New Writing in Britain: A State of ‘Kindred Strangers’?

Le théâtre verbatim et les nouvelles écritures dramatiques en Grande-Bretagne : une affaire de « consanguinité éloignée » ?
Cyrielle Garson


Le théâtre verbatim, un type de dramaturgie qui s’appuie sur les mots exacts prononcés par des « personnes réelles », est au centre d’une renaissance inattendue du genre en Grande Bretagne depuis le milieu des années 1990. À l’heure actuelle, le statut de new writing lui est souvent refusé car ce théâtre bouleverse les certitudes culturelles de l’idéologie dominante (notion d’auteur dramatique, processus de composition, statut du texte). On inférera ici la possibilité d’une relation dynamique entre le théâtre verbatim et le genre des nouvelles écritures dramatiques. Le but du travail sera ainsi d’examiner en détail les multiples traversées et similitudes entre ces deux approches théâtrales, occurrences qui méritent, nous semble-t-il, la plus sérieuse attention ainsi qu’un approfondissement théorique. De manière certaine, le foisonnement de pièces verbatim au cours de ces deux dernières décennies s’est illustré par une absence de formes prédéterminées ouvrant sur une expérimentation esthétique ; témoignage d’une période de porosité grandissante entre les techniques verbatim et les écritures dramatiques plus conventionnelles.

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  • 1 The last of three conferences organised by the AHRC-funded project ‘Giving Voice to the Nation: The (...)
  • 2 Within a UK context, continental practice typically means a different way of approaching theatre in (...)
  • 3 Verbatim theatre is a subcategory of documentary theatre which refers to a particular mode of drama (...)

1In the context of the ‘Turning the Page: Creating New Writing’1 Conference that was held at the University of Reading in September 2013, British playwright Steve Waters attempted to question the gap between new writing and the practices it has traditionally excluded—continental practice, site-specific texts, collaboration, postdramatic theatre2—by offering a dose of scepticism about some of its wilder claims. More specifically for our purposes, he named his paper ‘Border Crossings—Some Heretical Thoughts on Plays and Writing’ and one of his heretical thoughts purposefully challenged ‘the boundaries between the solo play, the verbatim3 play and the work of autonomous fiction’ (12). However, this article will rehearse a new provocation to thinking mainstream theatre forms by throwing light on a very particular area of the contemporary British stage that is sometimes overlooked in its complexity and contradictions.

2The concept of ‘crossings’ as articulated in the SAES’s Conference Call for Papers thus seemed particularly appropriate for this study, and of no theatre strand is this truer than verbatim theatre, a type of theatre ‘among the most innovative experimental dramaturgies of the turn of the millennium’ (79) for Elizabeth Angel-Perez in her remarkable study on constrained writing. Crucially, British theatre critic Andrew Haydon opens his chapter on 21st–Century theatre in Dan Rebellato’s Modern British Playwriting 2000-2009 by outlining the decisive changes in the decade under scrutiny, ‘the interrogation and gradual problematization of a supposed antagonism between “New Writing” and “New Work”—the nominal division between written plays and almost any form of theatre that had been arrived at by another route’ (40) and he then suggests that ‘a good way to understand how theatre developed in the 2000s is to look at verbatim theatre’ (41). This very debate about what counts as new writing is the focus of Duska Radosavljevic’s new book Theatre-Making: Interplay Between Text and Performance in the 21st Century and a controversial article in which British playwright David Edgar was reported to have ‘accused universities of a profound ideological hostility towards new writing, arguing that drama departments give undue precedence to devised theatre’ (in Trueman September 19, 2013). Taken as a whole, the seemingly heated cultural temperature of British theatre in the 21st–century encouraged me to think again about verbatim theatre and to venture into the grey area of ‘massaged verbatim’.

  • 4 See Arts Council England (2009) ‘New Writing in Theatre 2003-2008: An Assessment of New Writing wit (...)

3The term ‘massaged verbatim’ was coined by Australian playwright Alana Valentine to designate the opposite of ‘pure verbatim’, the use of verbatim techniques to create fiction and the shaping of the interviews around an invented narrative structure. Such a term, I would argue, carries the promise of the unexpected, stretching verbatim theatre in a way it had not been before where ‘there is no pretence that the play is anything more than a fiction’ (Valentine). What is clear from all her observations is that ‘verbatim is diversifying and changing and growing to the point now where […] it is beginning to reach […] for all the skills and tools of the classically trained dramatist.’ Indeed, contemporary plays in the new millennium do not have to be one or the other, they can be both at the same time. Interestingly, the Guardian published in the summer of 2013 an article entitled ‘Open Court: did it change the face of new writing?’, following the Royal Court’s New Writing Summer Festival where Matt Trueman seemed to concede that the inclusion of ‘dramatists, storytellers, verbatim playwrights … poets present[ing] monologues, lectures, readings … audio plays … [and] even those pieces that could readily be described as “plays”’ further interrogated the British phenomenon of new writing. Opening with a presentation of both these categories in a theoretical outline, we will then proceed to a demonstration of how these categories apply in dramatic and theatrical practice, before examining in more detail the changing paradigm within contemporary practice. The study ends by arguing that the increased funding following the Boyden Report led to both a reconsideration and broadening of the definition of what new writing could possibly mean4 in our fast-moving era of globalisation.

Kindred Strangers: The Uneasy Relationship between Verbatim Theatre and New Writing

4Verbatim theatre in Britain is widely held to be enjoying a golden period in the new millennium. Shows like London Road and Black Watch are popular hits both at home and abroad; inventive companies such as DV8 Physical Theatre are pushing the boundaries of what verbatim theatre is, while ‘it seems that new writing is everywhere, and everywhere it is attracting new audiences’ (Sierz 2013, 249). Yet, it would be non-controversial to posit that, by tradition, the relationship between new writing and verbatim theatre is a troubled one whereby the latter is often approached with extreme radicalism. A quick survey of the seminal literature on verbatim theatre reveals that the field is mined with hidden assumptions clustering especially around an imaginary consensus of opinion concerning the superiority of new writing over verbatim theatre: ‘the anxieties of an age of global terrorism are always refracted through the dark glass of a writer’s imagination, and thus cast darker shadows than those thrown by the weak candles of verbatim theatre’ (Sierz 2006, 155–156); ‘I also believe verbatim drama, at its best, is aesthetically indistinguishable from high art […] if we now accept it as a genre, it is not only because it offers necessary information. It is also because it can move and stir us as profoundly as any fiction’ (Billington 2012).

5One of the first polemics concerns the assumed condemnation of the theatre of the imagination by the verbatim playwright. According to the theatre critic Michael Billington, the rise to prominence of verbatim theatre in the past two decades has had a profound and negative impact on new writing and British theatre as a whole:

But, even if there is a vast quantity of new writing today, the quality is variable. I sense that verbatim theatre now occupies the territory once claimed by works of the imagination and that, with such notable exceptions as Bean, Roy Williams and David Eldridge, few dramatists possess a passionate commitment to the theatre. (2011)

6This context would imply that new writing is now in difficulty and that both artistic categories cannot cohabit or share the same space. A second polemic can be observed, which this article addresses. New writing and verbatim theatre seem to be presented as irreconcilable strangers and enemies in every sense. However, is this passionate distinction still meaningful at a time when the theatre of new writing par excellence, the Royal Court, has decided to open its summer new writing festival ‘Open Court’ with the verbatim play Cakes and Finance by ‘new writing playwright’ Mark Ravenhill? How do these recent developments impact the question of new writing versus verbatim theatre? At the present time, what makes verbatim theatre significantly different from new writing? These are the questions I want to probe in the following pages. The choice of the term ‘relationship’, as the title of this sectio suggests, is meant to bring into view an ongoing, elastic process of new writing rather than a taxonomically precise product. Arguably, a wide variety of meanings has accrued to new writing in the era of globalisation and great disagreements seem to surround what the definition of it might be.

Differential Approaches to Making Theatre on the Contemporary British Stage: A Critical Discussion

7From the outset, the two approaches under scrutiny in this analysis—namely new writing and verbatim theatre—are antinomical. They represent a very distinct order of writing and belong to a completely different realm of discourse. To be more valued, the new writing genre has therefore been restricted to exclude:

forms of theatre, such as physical theatre (where the emphasis is on the visual), devised theatre (where a group collaborates on a text), adaptations of books or films (where the story and dialogue depend on the source) and verbatim theatre (where the words of real people are used). (Sierz 2011, 50)

8According to ‘new writing champion Aleks Sierz’ (Edgar 2012, 7), the new writing category presents an array of characteristics ‘in the great tradition of British text-based theatre’ (Sierz 2011, 48) that includes ‘fiction’ (48) and ‘something urgent to say about Britain today’ (5). To explain why verbatim plays are not readily assimilated into new writing in terms of current cultural codes, Sierz refers to its most important criterion: a ‘distinctive and original authorial voice’ (58). Hence, the compositions that fall into the category of new writing invoke their uniqueness, the ideology of a one-of-the-kind dramatic art: ‘it is new not only to audiences but also to its directors, designers and actors’ (16). By opposition, verbatim plays are often collaborations between writers, actors, directors and even sometimes journalists. More surprisingly, there is a greater financial incentive to produce new writing. David Lane rather unromantically explains in his Contemporary British Drama that ‘the figure of the writer has been a constant and visible fixture and a unique selling point of British theatre—perhaps even a marketable commodity—both on a domestic and international scale’ (2). According to Writ Large, a report on new writing on the English stage between 2003 and 2009 produced by the British Theatre Consortium, new writing is special in the sense that it is ‘also more expensive’ to produce (25). Such a reading would want to suggest that verbatim theatre is financially less demanding than new writing, noting perhaps that this could account for its proliferation on the British stage.

9For David Lane, one of the main differences between the two perspectives is that the verbatim playwright ‘is bound to the material he is given whereas writers of fictional drama can invent anything they wish’ (72). He then offers a midway position arguing that:

whilst work rate, research, the writer’s position and the search for narrative might be constant features across both fiction and verbatim, the creation of verbatim performance text is characterised consistently by two factors: the ethical responsibility of the playwright not to invent new material, and the requirement to construct coherent drama from what they see laid out in front of them. (72)

  • 5 Lucy Prebble and Richard Bean have both written verbatim monologues for the 2006 National Theatre’s (...)

10However, this is not an impregnable position and so called ‘new writing’ playwrights themselves have begun to experiment with verbatim theatre which serves as a testimony to the way verbatim techniques have recently permeated new writing. David Hare, Mark Ravenhill, David Edgar, Dennis Kelly, Caryl Churchill, Tanika Gupta, Gregory Burke, Lucy Prebble, Richard Bean5 and Linda McLean—to name only ten of them—have all crossed the line into the territory of verbatim theatre with various degrees of involvement. For instance, Mark Ravenhill in A Life in Three Acts makes the verbatim process explicit from the outset in the opening of Act One: ‘Hello, I’m Mark Ravenhill. I’m a playwright. In the past few weeks, I’ve been talking to the performer Bette Bourne about his life. We’ve divided our conversation into three parts. A life in three acts. Tonight is part one. We’d like to read you edited transcripts of our conversations. Ladies, gentlemen and all others—Bette Bourne’ (3). David Hare in The Power of Yes—a verbatim play on the financial crisis—uses a different ploy to reveal the origin of his text by dramatising himself under the fictitious name ‘The Author’ (3) as well as the process of making the verbatim play: ‘Author: Honestly, we’re not going to get anywhere if you insist on writing the play for me. You have to give me the material, not the play’ (6). The reader is rapidly made aware that there is a strong correlation between this mysterious author and the real author David Hare when a corporate lawyer named Harry Lovelock mentions that he ‘saw [his] previous plays, Stuff Happens and The Permanent Way’ (4). Tanika Gupta’s Gladiator Games is again different when it comes to uncovering its verbatim origin. She provides the reader with a very thorough list of sources that are clearly identified within the text: ‘Verbatim text reproduced from these sources is marked with an asterisk in square brackets [*]; the references are given at the end of the reproduced text in the form shown above ([V1a], [V3], etc). Anything unmarked is a dramatization based on events/hearsay’ (28).

11As I shall argue, the two categories are not as linear and stable as one might think and new writing at its broadest includes a wide variety of configurations:

going to see ‘new writing’ no longer necessarily means going to a theatre at 8 pm in the evening and watching a play on the stage. That there has been a diversification in not just where (eg site specific) and when (late night shows, festivals) you see some new writing but also in what format (short piece presentations, readings, more experimental work, etc). This not only captures different kinds, and sometimes younger, audiences but also has the added benefit of giving emerging writers and artists a wider range of opportunities to hone their craft in whichever direction it might be going. (Dunton, Nelson and Shand 8)

12In this context, the fast-moving 21st–century in British theatre can be seen to have dialectically produced new methods for theatre practitioners, as well as reinventing the existing notion of new writing inasmuch as it is always in active negotiation with prior theatrical practices. It is at this level that verbatim theatre can potentially engage with new writing and open its horizons.

The Upsurge of Verbatim Materials in New Writing: Towards a Redefinition of Genres

13The logic of oppositions I described earlier is interestingly productive of new works. More precisely, it engages a kind of writing circumscribed by neither genres nor artistic conventions. What brings the two approaches together, then, determines a new field of practice which ‘varies from most verbatim scripts’ (Bartlett 25). Consequently, we might look for works that are positioned between ‘the “pure” verbatim format’ (Hopton 18) and what has been conventionally understood as new writing. Aleks Sierz notes this shift of practice and concludes that ‘factual theatre moves closer to the individually imagined worlds that new writing is so good at showing’ (2011, 58) while David Lane argues that verbatim theatre’s ‘sources are increasingly “authored” rather than objectively presented’ (78). Interestingly, this is a two-way process as ‘the fashion for verbatim theatre influenced even fictional stories’ (Middeke, Schnierer and Sierz xiv). Thus, we are inclined to locate theatre experiments at the nodal points between verbatim theatre and non-verbatim theatre, works in hybrid forms that foreground both their verbatim origins and imagination processes. Such a positioning between reality and fiction, fluctuating between a predetermined model of theatre and the very absence of determination generates a whole range of formal possibilities. Admittedly, these are clear entailments of the ever-expanding field of new writing.

  • 6 The tribunal plays from the Tricycle Theatre are one of the modes of presentation for contemporary (...)
  • 7 The play is purposefully disorienting because Dennis Kelly uses verbatim markers within a purely fi (...)

14At this crux between verbatim theatre and the established new writing approach lies ‘playwrights who combined the tenets of verbatim theatre with fictional material’ (Boles 158). Indeed, a firm distinction between verbatim theatre and new writing does not fit numerous contemporary plays. David Edgar’s Playing with Fire and Dennis Kelly’s Taking Care of Baby are two interesting cases in point. In both plays, the two artistic categories join together in intertextual and intermedial relationships. In Act Two, Scene One of Playing with Fire we are told that ‘the feel, structure and groundrules of the dramatisation follow those of the tribunal plays at the Tricycle Theatre in London’6 (83) whereas Dennis Kelly misleadingly claims7 that ‘The following has been taken word for word from interviews and correspondence. Nothing has been added and everything is in the subject’s own words, though some editing has taken place. Names have not been changed’ (15). At the other end of the spectrum are fictional plays featuring a certain proportion of verbatim accounts such as Simon Stephens’ Pornography or Caryl Churchill’s Mad Forest as well as the plays produced through a process similar to verbatim theatre: ‘Written under the influence of verbatim theatre, they were usually well researched’ (Sierz 2011, 98). A good example of such practices is Bola Agbaje’s Concrete Jungle which was heavily inspired by interviews conducted with the police, prisoners and politicians on the subject of gang culture. Side by side with these fictional plays are a series of verbatim theatre hybrids which add fictional dialogues in a more or less obvious way such as Robin Soans’ Talking to Terrorists, the aforementioned Tanika Gupta’s Gladiator Games and David Hare’s Stuff Happens. Commenting on the latter, Tricia Hopton questions the validity of the verbatim category: ‘Hare’s ambiguous Author’s Note and the public reviews of the play leave the play open to misclassification as a verbatim play’ (18). In Davey Anderson’s Blackout which premièred at the National Theatre on 4th–July 2008 as part of the Theatre of Debate season, the author himself expresses his uneasiness with the verbatim nomenclature when it comes to his creative process: ‘I wrote this play, but the story isn’t mine. It belongs to a young man from the east end of Glasgow who allowed me to interview him about his life . . . I went away with several hours of audio recordings from our conversations, which I then edited into a short narrative. This is not to say that the following text is a verbatim transcript—although most of the words are his rather than mine. The play that emerged is a fictionalised account of the events surrounding the crime this young man committed, told with a fair amount of creative licence and, crucially, with certain key details left out’ (vii). These familiar boundaries between genres are now beginning to crumble. These plays not only require critical analysis but may be treated as occasions for exploring and testing assumptions embedded in the discourse on new writing and verbatim theatre. This gradual evaporation of boundaries has been particularly characteristic of recent verbatim performances which transfer the exact words spoken by real people into a fictionalised context. This is the case of Alice Bartlett’s Not in my Name which is ‘a story: a hypothesis of what might occur in the event and aftermath of a localised terror attack rather than a reconstruction purposefully based upon any previous disaster’ (25; emphasis in the text) and the Tricycle Theatre’s Called to Account: The Indictment of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair for the Crime of Aggression Against Iraq—A Hearing which shows to an audience what a trial of then Prime Minister Tony Blair for war crimes might look like. At the risk of disappointing those who were expecting a new tribunal play based on an edited transcript from a real inquiry, Lawyer Philippe Sands QC’s verbatim words seem to sustain the illusion: ‘You have now heard the evidence. Are there grounds for a full investigation as to Mr Blair’s involvement in the crime of aggression?’ (89) Finally, and perhaps most decisively, what unites this arsenal of new writing practices is an imagination that mobilises verbatim materials as an artistic device. To a certain extent, the expanded field of new writing is thus generated by problematizing the sets of opposition between verbatim theatre and fiction.

15My first task in thinking through the question of what constitutes new writing has been to disclose a logic of genre that provides a prescriptive genealogy of both verbatim theatre and new writing, accounting for the range of their practice. My second has been to consider extensions of this logic in the light of plays that have appeared more recently on the British stage. Such works are potential comments on the limits and possibility of verbatim theatre as new writing and new writing as verbatim theatre. Another consideration, then, is that the use of verbatim materials in new writing has enabled playwrights to develop new aesthetic possibilities characterised by their in-between-ness between verbatim and non-verbatim codes. The study of these plays clearly demonstrates the necessity for a more flexible definition of new writing in a context where rigid borders between artistic categories need to be surpassed:

the landscape of new writing has been changing significantly enough for us to be having this discussion and may indicate that one net result of the increased funding since 2003 has been a broadening of the definitions of new writing and this has acted as a catalyst to the artform in a positive way. (Dunton, Nelson and Shand 9)

16Rather than focusing on seemingly irreconcilable concepts phrased in terms of traditional binary opposites, I hope I have shown that a contemporary discourse on new writing might be productive if it searches out and questions the borders, intersections and gaps where verbatim and new writing merge, come together or confront each other.

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Anderson, Davey. Blackout. London: Samuel French, 2009.

Angel-Perez, Elisabeth. ‘Language Games and Literary Constraints: Playing with Tragedy in the Theatre of Caryl Churchill and Martin Crimp’. Contemporary British Theatre: Breaking New Ground. Ed. Vicky Angelaki, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 79–95.

Bartlett, Alice. Not in my Name. London: Oberon, 2009.

Billington, Michael. ‘The best shows of 2011: Michael Billington’s choice’. The Guardian on the Web, 4 Dec. 2011,, last accessed on November 4, 2012.

———. ‘V is for verbatim theatre’. The Guardian on the Web, 8 May 2012,, last accessed on December 13, 2013.

Blythe, Alecky. London Road. London: Nick Hern, 2011.

Boles, William C. The Argumentative Theatre of Joe Penhall. London: McFarland, 2011.

Burke, Gregory. Black Watch. London: Faber & Faber, 2007.

British Theatre Consortium. Writ Large: New Writing on the English Stage 2003-2009. London: Arts Council England, 2009.

Churchill, Caryl. Mad Forest. London: Nick Hern, 1993.

Dunton, Emma, Roger Nelson and Hetty Shand. New Writing in Theatre 2003-2008: An Assessment of New Writing within Smaller Scale Theatre in England. London: Arts Council England, 2009.

Edgar, David. Playing with Fire. London: Nick Hern, 2005.

———. ‘Hard Times for British Plays? David Edgar Defends the Political Vibrancy of British Playwriting’. Hard Times 91 (2012): 7-12.

Gupta, Tanika. Gladiator Games. Political Plays. London: Oberon, 2012.

Hare, David. Stuff Happens. London: Faber & Faber, 2004.

———. The Power of Yes: A Dramatist Seeks to Understand the Financial Crisis. London: Faber & Faber, 2009.

Haydon, Andrew. ‘Theatre in the 2000s’. Modern British Playwriting: 2000-2009. Ed. Dan Rebellato, London: Methuen Drama, 2013. 40-98.

Hopton, Tricia. ‘Adapting Verbatim Theater: David Hare’s Stuff Happens’. Pockets of Change: Adaptation and Cultural Transition. Eds. Jane Stadler, Peta Mitchell, Adam Atkinson and Tricia Hopton. Lanham, Md: Lexington, 2011. 15–28.

Kelly, Dennis. Taking Care of Baby. London: Oberon, 2007.

Lane, David. Contemporary British Drama. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2010.

Middeke, Martin, Peter Paul Schnierer and Aleks Sierz. The Methuen Guide to Contemporary British Playwrights. London: Methuen Drama, 2011.

Norton-Taylor, Richard and Nicolas Kent. Called to Account: The Indictment of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair for the Crime of Aggression Against Iraq – A Hearing. London: Oberon, 2007.

Radosavljevic, Duška. Theatre-making: Interplay between Text and Performance in the 21st Century. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Ravenhill, Mark. A Life in Three Acts. London: Methuen Drama, 2009.

Sierz, Aleks. The Theatre of Martin Crimp. London: Methuen Drama, 2006.

———. Rewriting the Nation: British Theatre Today. London: Methuen Drama, 2011.

———. ‘A New Crisis in New Writing’. Contemporary Theatre Review. Backpages 23.2 (2013): 249–264.

Soans, Robin. Talking to Terrorists. London: Oberon, 2005.

Stephens, Simon. Pornography. London: Methuen Drama, 2008.

Trueman, Matt. ‘Open Court: Did it Change the Face of New Writing?’ The Guardian on the Web, 1 Aug. 2013,, last accessed on September 2, 2013.

———. ‘David Edgar: Universities Are “Profoundly Hostile” to New Writing’. The Guardian on the Web, 18 Sept. 2013,, last accessed on on September 19, 2013.

Valentine, Alana. ‘Captivated by Reality: The Alex Buzo Lecture 2009’,, last accessed on on May 1, 2014.

Waters, Steve. ‘Border Crossings—Some Heretical Thoughts on Plays and Writing’. Conference Programme for Turning the Page: Creating New Writing 1945-2013. Reading and London: University of Reading and Victoria & Albert Museum. 12–13.

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1 The last of three conferences organised by the AHRC-funded project ‘Giving Voice to the Nation: The Arts Council of Great Britain and the Development of Theatre and Performance in Britain 1945-1995ʼ, an important research investigating the relationship between Arts Council subsidy, arts policy, and theatre practice.

2 Within a UK context, continental practice typically means a different way of approaching theatre in Europe. For instance, Germany does not have a text-based tradition and the director is often said to be at the centre. Playtexts are easily adapted to suit a specific production’s purposes. Site-specific texts belong to the broad church of performance and feature a type of production whose text is very different in kind from traditional plays. Such texts have different structures to accommodate a productive engagement with a particular location. Collaboration or devised theatre involve a type of writing for performance devoid of an identifiable playwriting figure. Postdramatic theatre is an umbrella term coined by Hans-Thies Lehmann to designate a change of paradigm in theatre-making that radically departs from dramatic theatre. The works of Forced Entertainment, DV8 Physical Theatre and Punchdrunk are often mentioned as examples of this move to the performance realm whereby the text is only one element of the production.

3 Verbatim theatre is a subcategory of documentary theatre which refers to a particular mode of dramatic composition whereby the performance text is based on the exact words of real people.

4 See Arts Council England (2009) ‘New Writing in Theatre 2003-2008: An Assessment of New Writing within smaller scale theatre in England’, last accessed at, 10 on January 19, 2015.

5 Lucy Prebble and Richard Bean have both written verbatim monologues for the 2006 National Theatre’s series National Headlines: Lucy Prebble focused on issues of immigration with No Zealot like a Convert and Richard Bean explored faith in The Word of God. Caryl Churchill wrote in 2003 a documentary play entitled Iraq.doc based on chatroom transcripts about the war in Iraq.

6 The tribunal plays from the Tricycle Theatre are one of the modes of presentation for contemporary verbatim theatre in Britain. In this format, interviews are edited from a legal case and the trial is then re-enacted on stage in a condensed version. In Playing with Fire, a public inquiry into local riot is set up at the beginning of Act Two and adopts the style of the tribunal plays for the duration of one scene until ‘suddenly, the Inquiry disappears and images of riot swirl across the stage’ (107).

7 The play is purposefully disorienting because Dennis Kelly uses verbatim markers within a purely fictional play that the reader/spectator can find difficult to discern until anomalies accumulate and begin to be noted. In other words, this is a mock-verbatim piece similar to James Fritz’s Lines that was written as if interviews had been conducted and transcribed - both of which suggest a furious critique of verbatim theatre going beyond a mere parody.

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Cyrielle Garson, « Verbatim Theatre and New Writing in Britain: A State of ‘Kindred Strangers’? »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 48 | 2015, mis en ligne le 23 mars 2015, consulté le 20 février 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Cyrielle Garson

Cyrielle Garson is a member of the research group ‘Théâtre(s) Politique(s)’ in France and belongs to the interdisciplinary research team ‘Cultural Identity, Texts and Theatricality’ (ICTT, EA 4277) at the University of Avignon. In the context of her PhD research, she has recently published an article on ‘headphone-verbatim theatre’ for Issue 2.1 of the Journal of Contemporary Drama in English and her forthcoming publications include two chapters on verbatim theatre to appear respectively in Theatre Plays on British Television, to be edited by Amanda Wrigley and John Wyver with Manchester University Press (2015) and in Aesthetics and Ideology in Contemporary Literature and Drama, to be edited by René Agostini and Madelena Gonzalez with Cambridge Scholars Press (2015).

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