Task 2: Evaluation of Sources

  1. Boyd Tonkin (2016) Waste: How the Revival of Harley Granville Barker’s Play Proves Theatre Can Still Speak Truth to Power. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/features/waste-how-the-revival-of-harley-granville-barkers-play-proves-theatre-can-still-speak-truth-to-power-a6726366.html (Accessed: 6 February)

Boyd Tonkin’s article on Harley Granville Barker, written for The Independent was published in 2016. I was able to believe this source to be reliable particularly for its currency, as it is only a year old. The article is also written for a well-known news company with an author published, which can allow the source of this reference to be contacted.

In terms of using this source in the essay, I wanted to have specific details as to why his play,  ‘Waste’ was banned by the Lord Chamberlain. I had already read Nick Smurthwaite’s article for ‘The Stage’, writing that it had been banned for political reasons, however, I wanted to see if there was any more reasons as to why it was bland, because simply writing for political reasons was not detailed. In Tokin’s article, I was able to find this section, I used the pieces of information in italics:

  • Back in 1907, as Barker fought to build and keep an audience for challenging modern drama at the Royal Court in Sloane Square, the ostensible reason for the ban on Waste was the illegal backstreet abortion that dooms its hero. It kills Trebell’s married lover Amy O’Connell, and so gives the scheming Conservatives enough rope to hang the independent MP and trash his progressive scheme to cut the Church of England loose from the state and divert its resources into public education.

This article was able to provide an explanation with the fact that the play involves a backstreet illegal abortion, something which would not be approved. It also backs up the political reasons as to why the play was censored.

This can relate to the course through looking at playwrights and drama pieces, throughout the term, we have focused one session a week looking at a new British playwright each week. Although we never learned about Harley Granville Parker, he is still a British playwright which I have been able to learn about through this research.

  1. Curtis. J.A.E (1987) Bulgakov’s Last Decade: The Writer as Hero. New York: Cambridge University Press

Although this book was written in 1987, I still felt it to be reliable as it tells of Mikhail Bulgakov’s last decade of his life before his death, which was in 1940. Therefore, there is no information on his life which could have drastically changed. As well as that, there is also an author to the book, who could be contacted through the publishers. The source itself did prove to be useful as beforehand, I had only been able to write a description on what Bulgakov’s play, ‘Crimson Island’ was about, however, I was able to gather information from specific people who at the time were calling for it to be banned. I was able to find names such as Alexander Tairov, Bachelis and members of Turkel’taub, the last one being the group I referenced. The full quote I found was: “Bulgakov’s specific aim is unambiguous: he has to demonstrate to the audience that Soviet theatrical censorship is in the hands of idiots“. I decided to use a piece of this quote as the group made the claim that Bulgakov was mocking and undermining the Russian censors.

This links to previous work we have done in sessions of talking about censorship. Previously in sessions, we had talked lightly on English plays getting banned through the Lord Chamberlain, however, we hadn’t mentioned anywhere else, therefore, I took the opportunity to explore this further after reading about ‘The Bedbug’ being banned, later discovering ‘Crimson Island’ to also be a play banned by Russian censors.

  • Daniels. G (1968) Mayakovsky: Plays. USA: Northwestern University Press

I was more hesitant to rely on this source, not only because of the distant publish date, but despite there being an author, I struggled in finding a city that the book was published when looking to write the reference. Therefore, I didn’t rely much on this source, however, I was struggling to retrieve a copy of Mayakovsky’s ‘The Bedbug’, which I wanted to use as evidence for backing up of a particular argument that it was banned for having a view on Russia in the future. Although on page 178, he mentions of his shock about there being “automobiles”, I decided to use a conversation in page 177 which would show the contrast between Ivan Prisypkin’s time and the ‘future’ with the doctors:

  • Doctors: “What was that he was doing with our hands? Grabbing and shaking them, shaking and grabbing…”.
  • Professor: “It’s an unhygienic custom they had in ancient times”

These quotes were able to give me something different and new information on a play which I had only been able to read a synopsis of previously.

  • Dominic Cavendish (2011) My Play Predicted the Riots. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/theatre-features/8799172/My-play-predicted-the-riots.html (Accessed: 24 January)

This source is another article written for a well-known news company in the UK, the article is still quite recent, published in 2011 and again, has an author who can be contacted. I was able to gain some new information from this article, after already reading an article by Samantha Ellis, which I became interested in because Cavendish was interviewing Edward Bond, the writer of the censored play ‘’Saved’. I was able to discover that the director of the performance, William Gaskill was arrested.

  • “Bond recalls the “intellectual anger” that seized him when he saw the blue pencil lines the Lord Chamberlain’s office had marked on the script with suggested cuts. His refusal to amend it in any way – “I would not alter one full stop” – and the consequent decision to present Saved as a “club performance” for members-only, and subsequent prosecution of the director William Gaskill, galvanised a parliamentary review of the law, eventually resulting in the abolition of censorship in the 1968 Theatres Act.”

Heilpem. J (2007) John Osborne: A Patriot for Us. Vintage Edition. London: Vintage Books.

A Patriot of us to me was reliable after seeing the still recent publishing date, with an author and an exact publishing location as well as company. While searching for censored plays for the 20th century, I noticed ‘Luther’ and what interested me most was that I was able to find exact reasons as to why it was censored and what needed to be changed in order for that to be overturned.

  • “Luther got bogged down in an absurdist battle over the hero’s constipated bowl movements and the Lord Chamberlain’s intention to substitute the word “testicles” in place of the heraldic bronze balls of the Medici”.

Because of the specific details I was able to discover, this has made the source very useful.

Although I had been able to find plays which had been banned by Russian censors, part of my question is on the governments. Therefore, I wanted to gain more information as to what the Soviet Union did on a larger scale to control which arts were classed as appropriate. Although this article was released a while ago in 2000, there is still an author to the article who can be contacted. The information I found below gave me new information on what was done and the consequences to writers who didn’t follow that after 1937. I was able to find out about the Writer’s Union, which again was new and useful information, making this source very useful to use in the essay.

  • “State control was absolute throughout. The only period of freedom during which no censorship existed in modern Russian history was from February to October 1917. In 1934 the Bolshevik regime tightened old methods by imposing several stages of supervision—first by the Writers’ Union, then by the appropriate state-appointed commissar, finally by the Central Committee of the Communist Party. A literary “line” was laid down by the Party: at first the notorious Proletkult, which demanded collective work on Soviet themes by squads of proletarian writers; then the worship of Soviet or pre-Soviet heroes. Nevertheless, arresting and original artists were not, until 1937, always brought to heel by the omnipotent state.”

As previously commented, in relation to the course, I have only learned briefly on censorship in England. Now that I had been able to find out about other plays which were banned in other countries, I could also now see the difference of what other countries did.

John Nathan’s article for the Telegraph, just like other sources, is written for a well-known company and for me is reliable for the still recent publishing date and author. This article was able to allow me to develop my knowledge on what I had already learned in terms of censorship in England, giving me new information on the after effect of censorship. However, I have decided not to use the information I found on the premiere of ‘Hair’ the day after, putting the focus back onto the essay question of what had been banned in the 20th century. There was other information which I found in this article which I could put in the essay about ‘Waiting for Godot’. However, this is only from a small section so overall, although I will still put this reference in, I don’t feel that this source has been as useful or relevant as many of my other sources have.

  • “On September 26 1968, Britain abandoned theatre censorship. After 231 years of making some of the barmiest decisions known to man, the Lord Chamberlain was stripped of his power to censor any play wishing to be licensed for public performance. The next day, the first Broadway production of the musical Hair opened in London. With its rock anthems and nude hippies, no show could have better illustrated that a new theatrical era had arrived.
  • Yet the list of banned plays also included works by Ibsen, Arthur Miller, Pirandello and Strindberg, while Beckett had to fight hard for his Godot.

 

 

This source has been very useful and relevant in terms of writing about censorship in England, Kathryn Johnson has written down specific points on what the Lord Chamberlain looks for when deciding if a play is suitable to be released. The points that I found from this article are:

  • “The rules by which plays were judged fit or unfit came about as a result of the 1909 Joint Select Committee on the theatre. The Committee suggested that the Lord Chamberlain should license any play submitted to him unlesshe considered it
  • To be indecent
  • To contain “offensive personalities”
  • To represent on the stage in an invidious manner a living person, or a person recently dead
  • To do violence to the sentiment of religious reverence
  • To be calculated to conduce to crime and vice
  • To be calculated to impair friendly relations with any Foreign Power
  • To be calculated to cause a breach of the peace”

This was all new information to me as previously, I did not know what particular points are looked for to approve or ban it. The blog post written by Kathryn Johnson to me is reliable as it is very up to date as it was published in 2016 and has an author. I will use all of this information that I have found to adapt into my essay as I feel it is very important to the question of how censorship was controlled. This can then link to the plays which I have found to have been censored.

Written for The Stage, I found this article to be very relevant as part of my question was about what was done to get around this censorship. Through this article, I was able to discover that private clubs were formed to show these plays, because they are private, the Lord Chamberlain had no power over them.

  • “One was that the play, though written in 1906, wasn’t performed in public until 1936, having been banned by the Lord Chamberlain for its “scandalous” content. The other was the author’s decision, aged 40, to retire from an active role in the contemporary British theatre he had helped to mould.”

The information I have found from this source is very up to date with an author from a website who can be contacted, making it trustworthy to use.

The main issue I had with this source was the lack of author on the website, however, I still decided to use it as it mentions which company is performing ‘Crimson Island’: The Oistros Theatre Company. Another reason I decided to use this source is because although I had found from other references that this play was banned, there wasn’t any information on what the play was about. This source is very relevant to this essay as I was able to get the plot of the play, pieces of it I could use in the essay:

  • “The story told by Bulgakov takes place within a final run-through of a theatre company that is about to present the play of a fledgling Russian playwright. His play is about a remote island in the middle of nowhere called Crimson Island, a place rich in natural wealth, home to not so bright a ruler who lives in luxury and his people who live in poverty. European officials visit the island and understand that it’s not only a tourist’s paradise but also a seemingly endless source of wealth for them to exploit. Five hundred pounds of pearls are exchanged for ten crates of rum and a used leather suitcase.But fate wills it so, that the active volcano on the island devours the ruler. Kiri Kouki, taking advantage of the gap of power-structure on the island together with the need of people for hope, rises to the throne. He bears all the qualities necessary to bring a new era to the island. He is well-educated, well-mannered and speaks foreign languages, so that he can do business with the Europeans when they come to claim the wealth that is «rightfully» theirs.”

The source is also up to date in terms of the date it was published, the performances ran in 2013, which is when this source would have been created.

Just like the previous source, this reference also does not have an author, which to me made me wonder if it was a reliable source. However, it was written in 2008, which meant that the information is quite up to date. Because of this, I did not rely too much on this source, later gaining information from Isaih Berlin to back this information up. Therefore, I only took information from the opening paragraph, then finding other sources to back this up, which I was able to do.

  • Stalin’s strengthening of his dictatorship in the early 1930s predetermined total submission of literature and art. In 1932 the Central Committee ordered to dismiss all literary associations and establish a single all-national Union of Soviet Writers, which was founded two years later at the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers.”

From this source, I was able to learn that Stalin had very tight control on not just plays, but all forms of art. Following this, I was also able to learn about the Union of Soviet Writers. Although I still used this source, compared to the other source on this matter, I don’t feel as if it has too much relevance.

As I was researching, I read about the 1968 theatre act from other sources, however, I wanted to use information from the government website, which had the official details of this act. Although the page itself was amended in 2000, I still used this information as it is still the official details. Despite this, it did not prove to have much relevance when using the source in the essay, as I only looked at the top quote:

  • “An act to abolish censorship of the theatre and to amend the law in respect of theatres and theatrical performances”.

This information is new despite first reading about the act from other sources, this has the quote from the actual legislation. As well as this, this is very relevant in terms to the course as although we had briefly mentioned censorship, I can now expand on that and see what banned it and the actual article.

  • Noah Birksted-Breen (2009) A Revolution for Russian Playwrights. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/theatreblog/2009/oct/06/russian-playwrights(Accessed: 6 February)

As I was able to discover how censorship in England was fought, to answer my question fully, I needed to look if the same had occurred in Russia. I was able to rely on the source for its currency as the publishing date is recent, there is also an author for this ‘Guardian’ article. This relevant source gave me new information as I was able to discover that despite Stalin’s death, this issue is still continuing in Russia, with young playwrights choosing to move to England.

  • “The process would have been new for the playwrights included in the Russian season. In Russia, things happen at two extremes: plays are either staged in their first draft or the playwright hands over the play and then nervously turns up on press night to see what has happened to it. There are famous legends of times when a director has cut up the play – bits are missing or the beginning is now in the middle. The culture of new writing, of knowing how to support a writer from first draft to performance, still doesn’t exist in Russia. With any luck, these Russian playwrights will now go back demanding it from their theatres in the future.”

I put the piece of information I found important in italics as despite it being the 21st century, the issues from the 20th century still appear to be going on in Russia. Playwrights do not always get full control of their writings and if they refuse, they may not have their plays approved.

This source, carrying on from Cavendish’s article, appeared to me to have slightly more relevance as there was more evidence given to me about the private clubs which were set up. The source also has more relevance as it gave specific details as to why the play was censored in the first place, which I was able to write about in the essay.

  • The Lord Chamberlain’s office slammed a ban on Edward Bond’s second play, Saved. But where there was censorship, there were also loopholes. So the Royal Court, staunch defender of the notion that “a play needs to be shown as it was written”, turned itself temporarily into a club theatre to stage the play’s premiere on November 3 1965. The scene that most riled the censor was one in which a baby was stoned to death. The critics were equally horrified. “One of the nastiest scenes I have ever sat through,” said Jeremy Kingston in Punch. “More horrible than anything in The House of Fred Ginger [another 1960s play about infanticide], if no more horrible than some episodes in Titus Andronicus,” said the Guardian’s Philip Hope-Wallace.

The article is relatively up to date, written in 2003 by Samantha Ellis, so there is also an author on this known news company, this therefore made it trustworthy enough to rely on.

Sova. D.B (2004) Banned Plays: Censorship Histories of 125 Stage Dramas. New YorkNew Ed Edition

This is the first source that I found in terms of the essay, it is how I found about ‘The Bedbug’ and why it was banned. I thought I could rely on this source due to its currency, it was published at a relatively current date, with the author, place of publication and the company who published it. Much of the information I found had other plays which were banned, however, I decided to stick with the plays banned in Russia which would allow me to write in more detail.

Although I had already used an article with an interview with Edward Bond, this was a separate interview with new information, he talks about what he thought about the Royal Courts version of ‘Saved’, which I was able to use in the essay.

  • “His 1965 play Saved enjoyed special notoriety at a time when the conservative press, in a moral panic over the permissive society, was finding plenty to be outraged about in the new British theatre.
  • Its fury was concentrated on a famous scene in which a baby is stoned to death by youths. The assumption appeared to be that the play was advocating stoning babies – by which logic King Lear is a play which advocates blinding old men.
  • Bond laughs when I remind him of this furore.
  • “My agent says he still gets more requests for that play than any of my others. We get a request once a week, but I won’t let them do it in this country now. They will turn it into a horror show. They did it at the Royal Court and it was rubbish. A performance will completely destroy a play.”
  • Despite being performed under club conditions, the standard tactic for taking plays out of the legal firing line in the days of censorship, the English Stage Society was successfully prosecuted over its original production of Saved.”

I used this source as I believed that it was a reliable and trustworthy source, it is up to date, written in 2013 with an author who can be contacted through the Birmingham Post. Although there is information about the arrests that followed, I didn’t use this source as I was able to get the name of the director from another source. But this article adds to what I had found earlier and has new quotes from Edward Bond.

With this source, I was hesitant to rely on it, although I was able to find the date, there is no author and no company name on the article. Therefore, although this was the first article I read about private clubs being set up, I wanted to explore more sources to see if this was reliable enough. As I was able to do this, I still used it in the essay, however, I only briefly mentioned it and used other sources on this issue to rely on to ensure that section came from more trustworthy sources. I was interested on this through the headline “ ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ Beats the Censor”. The article has a paragraph explaining that people would apply for club membership in order to watch Tennessee William’s ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’.

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One thought on “Task 2: Evaluation of Sources”

  1. excellent work Hannah, it is clear that you have the insight to be able to critically evaluate information taken from a range of sources to inform your essay – well done

    Like

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