Katie Mitchell and the Technologies of the Realist Theatre

Cornford, Tom (2020) Katie Mitchell and the Technologies of the Realist Theatre. Contemporary Theatre Review, 30 (2). pp. 168-192. ISSN 1048-6801

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This article explores the work of European theatre director Katie Mitchell (1964-) by examining her approach to managing the technologies of the realist theatre. It borrows from Heidegger’s analysis of the nature of technology to build upon Ric Knowles’s materialist account of theatre as an ‘ideologically-coded process’ of generating ‘overwhelmingly culturally-affirmative’ products. It does so by examining tensions between Mitchell’s attempts to produce politically critical theatre and the technological configuration of the realist stage. It focuses its analysis on three particular aesthetic strategies developed by Mitchell in the period since 2006: the use of juxtaposed box-sets to create ‘split-screen’ stagings (A Woman Killed with Kindness and Lucia di Lammermoor), the dramaturgical refocusing of play-texts through the aperture of a single character’s perspective (A Dream Play and 4.48 Psychosis), and the technique of ‘live cinema’ (The Forbidden Zone and Waves). The article concludes that the technological apparatus of the realist stage is systemically resistant to both critical political analysis and radical political action, and that a director such as Mitchell can therefore only work against wider political systems of domination and exploitation by working within just such a system. The productions analysed here demonstrate that any politically critical theatrical endeavour must begin from this understanding: that the theatre’s technologies are – in themselves – conduits of hegemonic power, and that it can therefore only take hold if the technological configuration of theatrical realism is radically dismantled.

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