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Voice, body and the transmission of the real in documentary theatre

Taylor, L. (2013) Voice, body and the transmission of the real in documentary theatre. Contemporary Theatre Review, 23 (3). pp. 368-379. ISSN 1477-2264

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1080/10486801.2013.806318


This article analyses how listening is used to develop performances in Alecky Blythe’s verbatim theatre. Listening includes Blythe’s use of recorded oral interviews for devising performances, and also the actors’ creation of performance by precisely imitating an interviewee’s voice. The article focuses on listening, speaking and embodiment in London Road, Blythe’s recent musical play at London’s National Theatre, which adopted and modified theatre strategies used in her other plays, especially The Girlfriend Experience and Do We look Like Refugees. The article draws on interviews with performers and with Blythe herself, in its critical analysis of how voice legitimates claims to authenticity in performance. The work on Blythe is contextualised by brief comparative analyses. One is Clio Barnard’s film The Arbor, a ‘quasi-documentary’ on the playwright, Andrea Dunbar which makes use of an oral script to which the actors lip-sync. The other comparator is the Wooster Group’s Poor Theater, which attempts to recreate Grotowski's Akropolis via vocal impersonation. The article argues that voice in London Road both claims and defers authenticity and authority, inasmuch as voice signifies presence and embodied identity but the reworking of speech into song signals the absence of the real. The translation of voice into written surtitles works similarly in Do We Look Like Refugees. Blythe’s theatre, Barnard’s film and The Wooster Group’s performances are a useful framework for addressing questions of voice and identity, and authenticity and replication in documentary theatre. The article concludes by placing Blythe’s oral texts amid current debates around theatre’s textual practices.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design > Film, Theatre & Television
ID Code:33712
Uncontrolled Keywords:Documentary Theatre listening in performance Clio Barnard Alecky Blythe lip-sych
Additional Information:This article is based on research undertaken as part of the AHRC 'Acting With Facts' funded project. It makes extensive use of interviews with Alecky Blythe and two actors in her play 'The Girlfriend Experience', Esther Coles and Beatie Edney


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