The post war era is one in which gender and sexuality have been among the central preoccupations of the British society and theatre has been at the forefront of bringing those preoccupations to the surface of the national consciousness and debating them. Sex on Stage: Gender and Sexuality in Post War British Theatre, a book published by Intellect books in the UK and USA, examines how British playwrights brought gender politics including women’s sexuality, gay and lesbian issues to the cutting edge of drama after World War II.
While scrutinising plays from 1950 to 2000 in which gender and sexuality can be seen as central concerns, Andrew Wyllie “in the 160-page book” reveals that this more progressive age was also one in which anxieties and a consequent reaction were discernible.
Women’s sexuality was and is an area crying out for the reclamation from male colonisation. But how this may be achieved is not clear because even in the context of the present day, moves by women to achieve equality of power with men are widely viewed far more with sympathy and acceptance than the more radical moves by some men to shed power in order to participate in the creation of a new set of concepts of what gender is or should be.
The ratio of women playwrights to male playwrights is dismally small yet the only way to liberate the feminine gender is by slotting in more women’s writing for theatre to enable theatre transcend the dismissively insubstantial role ascribed to it by critics who regard it as presenting a simplistic manifesto for sexual liberation.
Nevertheless, a chronological development is visible among women playwrights with the depth and radical potential of the presentation of sexuality increasing from the late 1950s through the 1970s and beyond.
Consisting of five chapters and at a cost of £14.95, Sex on Stage would appeal mostly to students of drama and academics.
Gender political theatre is over now partly as a result of the power of its own dialectical engagement with society. Current theatre dynamics seem to involve a search for new issues around which an innovative theatre can build theatricality. However Andrew Wyllie fails to understand how effective the theatre of sexual liberation has been as a phenomenon.
If the social impact of this theatre has truly been significant, can its absence continue to leave a fruitful gender political debate in its wake?
While the current theatre is still in search of new topics, the rise of prominent black writing has established itself as a particularly vital area. The first decade of the 21st century looks set to see black writing as the centre of gravity for vital, essential, culturally aware theatre