Are We On the Same Page? A Critical Analysis of the 'Text-Based'/'Non-Text-Based' Divide in Contemporary English Theatre

Catherine Love

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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In recent years, debates about new work in the English theatre sector have often centred on a perceived divide between so-called ‘text-based’ and ‘non-text-based’ work. This thesis offers a fresh perspective on this debate, arguing that this division rests on a misrepresentation of the relationship between text and performance embodied in, and perpetuated by, (a) the structures of Arts Council funding, (b) higher education and (c) theatre criticism. As such, I argue that the division between ‘text-based’ and ‘non-text-based’ work is not a straightforward reflection of divergent theatre-making practices; rather, it has been shaped by these theoretical and institutional contexts.

Chapter One makes an original intervention in theoretical discussions about text and performance, showing that there remains something conceptually unresolved about the ontology of the playtext. I argue against any hierarchy of text and performance, proposing that each is supplemental to the other, in a Derridean sense, thus endlessly deferring authority. I also reposition the notion of artistic intentions, which I suggest are indeterminate, multiple and embedded in creative processes.

With this theoretical framework in place, Chapter Two draws on extensive research in the Arts Council archive to argue that an effort to support new playwriting, paired with an erratic approach to the funding of alternative theatre, created a division between different kinds of new work. In Chapter Three, I analyse how an opposition between text and performance has frequently been used to define Drama as a discipline in higher education, while Chapter Four identifies conventions in mainstream theatre criticism that have perpetuated a hierarchical understanding of plays and performances.

The thesis concludes by examining a series of brief case studies, demonstrating both the diversity of approaches to text in contemporary English theatre-making and the restrictive implications of the ‘text-based’/‘non-text-based’ divide for the ways in which new work is funded, taught and discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Rebellato, Dan, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Feb 2019
Publication statusUnpublished - 2018

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