Appropriating Narratives of Conflict in Verbatim Theatre: A Practice-as-Research-led Investigation Into the Role of The Playwright

Beck, Sarah. 2016. Appropriating Narratives of Conflict in Verbatim Theatre: A Practice-as-Research-led Investigation Into the Role of The Playwright. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Despite the resurgence of interview-based verbatim theatre in the 21st century and scholarly debate surrounding the aesthetics and authenticity of verbatim plays, little examination of the role of the playwright integrating testimonies of war into the making of a verbatim play has been undertaken. The transactional relationships between interviewees and playwrights warrant study as this critical interaction informs the dramaturgy of the playtext. This area of inquiry also has significant resonance in debates regarding the ethics of representation in verbatim theatre, particularly as many contemporary verbatim plays examining conflict tend to incorporate testimony from interviewees whose lives have been affected by war and militarism.

What follows is a practice-as-research (PaR)-led investigation into my role as a playwright appropriating testimony from individual subjects affected by conflict. Through the creation of two verbatim plays, namely This Much is True and Yardbird, this investigation examines moments of disjuncture that occur when mediating war-related testimony. In addition to critically reflecting on the creative component of this inquiry, this dissertation also incorporates original interviews conducted with the creative team behind the National Theatre of Scotland’s play Black Watch and examines more broadly the methodologies of playwrights working with trauma-related experiences by focusing on how playwrights’ interactions with individual subjects inform the shaping of a play. This investigation examines the key issues that emerge as playwrights integrate personal testimony in a theatrical translation of subjects’ experiences into the writing of a verbatim play. It also seeks to examine the ethical tensions I encountered within my verbatim playwriting practice. Furthermore, this investigation interrogates my process of locating interview subjects and facilitating testimony; maintaining critical relationships with interviewees; organising the structure of the play; and negotiating interview subjects’ autonomy over the script.

Rather than generating codified guidelines for ethical verbatim practice, the findings and deliberations of my investigation are designed to assist other practitioners using personal testimony from interviewees as part of the playwriting process. Encouraging practitioners to critically reflect on the methods that they employ within the interview stages as part of the playwriting process helps to lay bare the ethical and aesthetic responsibilities involved in dramatising war-related testimony. These deliberations are offered for the benefit of other theatre practitioners as well as scholars working within the wider field of theatre studies.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


verbatim theatre, the role of the playwright, testimony, ethics, war, transactional moments

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


30 September 2016

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

27 Oct 2016 11:28

Last Modified:

12 Sep 2022 14:05


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