‘He’s Talking, My Mouth Moving’: A Critical Analysis of the Role, Value, and Experience of a Contributor to Verbatim Theatre

Clare Summerskill

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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‘He’s Talking, My Mouth Moving’: A Critical Analysis of the Role, Value and Experience of a Contributor to Verbatim Theatre.

Verbatim theatre processes which draw on interview content from living people are inherently open to accusations of appropriation, if not exploitation. However, scholarship addressing the experience of those who are interviewed for such productions, particularly those from marginlised communities, is sparse. This thesis asks what key issues need to be addressed by theatre makers when interview material from contributors is sought and employed within a verbatim script. Can an ‘insider’ positioning of theatre makers in relation to those they interview (where the playwright is from the same community and has shared experiences) produce a richer level of disclosure, a deeper level of trust in the project and a sense of co-creation on the part of the contributors?
As a theatre maker of many years’ standing, I wanted to explore whether a shift from a ‘mining’ or extractive relationship to one of reciprocity and co-production within professionally produced verbatim theatre can be facilitated by addressing the practices of theatre makers. To examine this question, I have discussed the working processes of several practitioners (including Christine Bacon and Della Pollock, who I interviewed) and have also reflected upon some of my own plays, analysing follow-up interviews with contributors.
My research demonstrated how risks can be mitigated and it also identified ways in which contributors can benefit from their involvement. It revealed that follow-up interviews with contributors provide much-needed documentation about their experience of verbatim theatre processes. Crucial to this enquiry, this thesis showed how existing debates and practice within oral history can inform and enhance ethical practice in plays created from interviews with living people.
This thesis has demonstrated that contributors’ narratives cannot simply be regarded as source material for playwrights, but that the experience of contributors in verbatim theatre processes must now be foregrounded in verbatim theatre practice and scholarship.

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Megson, Chris, Supervisor
  • Goddard, Lynette, Advisor
Award date1 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - 20 Nov 2020


  • Verbatim Theatre. Contributor. Oral History. Ethics.

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