Politics, Psychology and Philosophy in Contemporary Drama: The Theatre of Anxiety


In our fast moving and globalized world, feelings of fear and anxiety have become ubiquitous and we often feel overwhelmed by environmental, political and social topics. As a result, global catastrophes and public crises may not just alter our personal behaviour, but also lead to a more pessimistic view of our own future perspectives as well as those of the generations to come. This trend goes beyond mainstream media circles and is increasingly manifesting itself in contemporary (British) drama. As demonstrated in plays by well-known playwrights such as Caryl Churchill and newcomers such as Rory Mullarkey, anxiety is a pervasive factor in the background of many theatre productions throughout the UK, especially in the last five to ten years.

Hence, I would like to argue that a strand of contemporary theatre that combines topics of social, political and ecological importance with anxiety has come to prominence. This new strand of contemporary theatre tends to question public and private norms, unsettles the audience with emotional frankness, is often set in near-future dystopian scenarios, often ends in the destruction of the world as we know it and exposes the audience to fears and anxiety in both a private and public sphere.

Therefore, I would like to propose that this strand in contemporary theatre can be characterised as a veritable theatre of anxiety – anxiety as defined by Sara Ahmed as a conglomeration of several objects of fear. The reason for this development can be found in the nature of modern society, as outlined by sociologists like Zygmunt Bauman, who characterises modern (liquid) society as living in constant uncertainties, lacking control and living with increased levels of anxiety due to surrounding intangible dangers. The analysis of several plays will show that contemporary drama and performance both aesthetically and contextually reflect on and influence the precariousness of modern society as well as anxiety in general.


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