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‘Insular’ UK theatre must be more international in outlook, say leading playwrights

Brad Birch, Tanika Gupta, James Graham, Mark Lawson, April De Angelis, Roy Williams, Rosemary Jenkinson and Kwame Kwei-Armah. Photo: Helen Maybanks.
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Playwrights including Kwame Kwei-Armah and Tanika Gupta have claimed that British theatre is “monocultural” and has a “problematic” approach to internationalism.

They were speaking at the launch of Nations on the World Stage, a 10-year theatre project that will include a cycle of plays about Britain’s changing relationship with Europe.

Discussing how theatre as a medium should respond, Gupta said there was a lack of diverse stories being heard.

She said: “[British theatre] is monocultural and extremely Eurocentric and I think the stories of the diverse community are not getting told on our major stages.

“I think that some of the national theatres have failed abysmally to actually include people. Who is holding the pen, who are writing the stories, and whose stories are being told? At the moment it doesn’t feel like enough diversity or inclusivity is being involved in the theatre generally.”

Nations on the World Stage has been created by the Royal and Derngate in Northampton, in collaboration with the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh and the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff, with the RSA, which hosted the debate in London.

Kwei-Armah, who is also a director, said he found the lens through which theatre in the UK thinks about internationalism to be “problematic”.

“I certainly think that the prism that we find ourselves in – where the only privilege is English, particularly when we’re speaking about internationalism – is problematic.

“Even talking among ourselves, primarily about the English take or the British take on Brexit seems insular and 20th century.”

He added that theatre should be more like opera in its approach to international work.

“Opera is not afraid of internationalism, it’s not afraid of language, and what do we [in theatre] do about that?”

Also on the panel, which was chaired by Mark Lawson, were playwrights James Graham, April De Angelis, Roy Williams, Brad Birch and Rosemary Jenkinson.

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