Contemporary drama in Britain reinforces a lengthy and strong theatrical tradition, while employing innovative strategies and themes that reflect recent developments in British society and culture. Many of those dramatists who achieved success in the 1960’s and 1970’s continue to produce remarkable work. At the same time, a number of historical factors have influenced the work of a new generation of playwrights. British drama throughout the twentieth century frequently challenged social norms, but the political and cultural impact of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s conservative government, which dominated the 1980’s, continued to be felt in the years following her tenure. The entrepreneurship, unemployment, economic upheaval, dismantling of the welfare state, and Thatcher’s seeming insistence on “Victorian values” generated explicitly political drama in the 1980’s, much of which criticized the prevailing values of radical conservatism. This is evidenced most obviously in the plays of David Hare and Howard Brenton.
In the 1990’s, the aftershocks from the preceding decade were felt in the form of attacks on the new consumerism encouraged by Thatcher and on the “political correctness” response emanating from the Left. At the same time, tensions in Northern Ireland continued to confront Britain, and a number of new Irish playwrights emerged not only to address these issues but also to consider the condition of Ireland as a whole. One...
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