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Kwame Kwei-Armah: ‘Brexit and #MeToo have awoken a new generation of playwrights’

Young Vic artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah
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Kwame Kwei-Armah has claimed that Britain’s political theatre climate is in “great shape” because Brexit and the Me Too movement have “awoken a generation” of new writers.

The Young Vic artistic director also argued that British writers have more freedom to experiment within political theatre than their American counterparts, who are expected to keep political themes within a family drama.

Kwei-Armah was speaking at the launch of the UK’s first major political playwriting award from Theatre Uncut, a company known for producing political theatre. London’s Young Vic is a partner of the award along with Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre and the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh.

“We can’t rest on our laurels, but we’re in great shape as a country [for political writing] because Brexit, wherever you sit on it, has awoken a generation [of playwrights],” Kwei-Armah told The Stage.

“I think Me Too has awoken a generation, I think Black Lives Matter has awoken a generation. And so actually I’m really excited about where we find ourselves,” he added.

Other theatre leaders at the event echoed Kwei-Armah’s comments, with Theatre Uncut co-artistic director Emma Callander claiming that the genre is “definitely getting a lot cooler” and “a lot more acceptable” in the mainstream.

She told the Stage: “The landscape from when we started in 2011 in political theatre to now has changed exponentially.

“We were an anomaly, we were one of the only overtly new political writing companies and now, brilliantly, we are in a sea of them.”

She added: “I think there’s still a lot of work to do in terms of whose voices hit the stage and why they hit the stage, so it’s not about quotas or giving yourself a pat on the back, it’s about reflecting life.”

Sherman Theatre artistic director Rachel O’Riordan argued that the genre of political theatre had become less foregrounded, because all writers were now more political.

She added: “I think most young and emerging writers have a political sensibility, so whereas in the past it might have been someone making a decision to write a political play as opposed to a play, I think most writers who are making a piece of theatre now have politics in their mind.”