Staging the Systemic: Violence and Performativity in 2010s British Theatre

Alex Watson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This thesis explores the representation and theorisation of violence in new British plays of the 2010s. With the contention that violence became increasingly understood in the British public sphere over the 2010s as systemic and structural, the thesis argues that this decade of new British theatre represented violence accordingly. Namely, plays and productions generally depicted forms of violence as phantasmatic, permeating, and often difficult to identify. Though such theorisations of violence are not new to the 2010s, the influence of movements such as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter proliferated these perspectives much more widely over the course of the decade. Additionally, theories of performativity are utilised in this exploration of violence—as the thesis contends that the consideration of factors such as behaviours, identity formation, (re)iterations, and speech acts allow a more nuanced comprehension of the maintenance and matter of such systemic violence, as well as better insight into performance and audience affect. Though there has been some work in theatre and performance studies on the connection between violence and performativity, few have offered a sustained interrogation and application of this relationship. Furthermore, this thesis is among the first comprehensive studies that contextualises and historicises British theatre in the decade of the 2010s.

The introduction and first two chapters consider various interrelations between concepts of violence and performativity, with theoretical outlines given of both. The thesis' chapters then look at certain areas of import through the decade where this intersection is evident: namely, protest, climate crisis, neoliberalism, racism, and gender-based violence. The chapters offer a survey of each area's appearances in 2010s British theatre, before offering a close textual and performance analysis of up to three plays—informed by mostly contemporary theatre and performance scholarship, as well as relevant cultural theory. Each of the eighteen plays are closely read through a mixture of textual analysis, performance response, theoretical illustration, considerations of audience affect, and material factors of the production.

There are three major contentions drawn from the research and analyses of the thesis. The first is that the performative nature of the different forms of violence depicted in these plays—or the performative ways in which this violence is depicted—can be thought of overall as a continuum of violence, rather than as various, essentialist acts or forms of violence. The second is that such continuums of violence in their performative enactment actively maintain structures of violence. The third is that the 2010s British plays explored through the thesis advocate and dramaturgically create non-normative modes of seeing and comprehension, which are essential to distinguishing and combating the less visible forms of violence that came to be better recognised through 2010s British society. The contribution to knowledge that this thesis offers is a partial but sustained exploration, categorisation, and cataloguing of British theatre in the 2010s, as well as a maintained focus on systemic and structural violence as concepts important to the understanding of these plays and as issues that 2010s British theatre actively represented and often contended with.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Rebellato, Dan, Supervisor
  • Lease, Bryce, Advisor
Award date1 May 2022
Publication statusUnpublished - 2022


  • Violence
  • Performativity
  • British Theatre
  • 2010s

Cite this