The Ideal of Ensemble Practice in Twentieth-century British Theatre, 1900-1968.

Burt, Philippa. 2015. The Ideal of Ensemble Practice in Twentieth-century British Theatre, 1900-1968.. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

The central purpose of this thesis is to chart the ideal of ensemble theatre in Britain and its development in the country throughout the twentieth century, referring specifically to selected directors. The Stanislavskian model of the ensemble, as exemplified by the Moscow Art Theatre, served this ideal, pursued by Edward Gordon Craig, Harley Granville Barker, Theodore Komisarjevsky, Joan Littlewood and Peter Hall, who are the focus of the argument. Craig and Barker’s understanding of ensemble work was significantly influenced by their meetings with Stanislavsky in 1908 and 1914 respectively, while Littlewood and Hall were influenced by his writings on the theatre. Following Stanislavsky, the thesis offers a definition of ensemble as a permanent group based on shared values. The chosen directors are the most representative of attempts to establish ensemble companies in Britain in the twentieth century. They are also landmark cases in the sense that they initiated change in the perception of what a theatre company could be. The thesis argues, however, that the continued domination of the commercial theatre over the art theatre has been an impediment to each director’s attempts. Each chapter of the thesis is dedicated to a specific director, and, with the exception of Craig’s work at the Moscow Art Theatre, analysis is confined to the directors’ work in Britain.
Methodologically rooted within the sociology of the theatre, the thesis maps the progression of ensemble practices in British society. It interweaves extensive archival research with an exploration of the sociological, economic and political factors that underpin both the attempts to establish a permanent company and the resistance to it. The thesis explores the pervasive influence of individualism and commercialism in all areas of British life, arguing that their principles generate a theatre climate that was not conducive to the establishment of a permanent ensemble company and was even antithetical to it. Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of culture, and Maria Shevtsova’s development of Bourdieu’s theory in relation to theatre, provides the theoretical frame of the thesis.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Ensemble theatre, British theatre, sociology of the theatre, Pierre Bourdieu, theatre directing, rehearsal techniques, Shakespeare, British political ideologies, Anglo-Russian relations

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Theatre and Performance (TAP)


30 June 2015

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

22 Jul 2015 09:06

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 11:31


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