In-yer-face theatre is a style and sensibility of drama that emerged in Great Britain in the 1990s. This term was borrowed by British theatre critic Aleks Sierz as the title of his book, In-Yer-Face Theatre: British Drama Today, first published by Faber and Faber in March 2001.
An adjunct faculty member in Boston University's London graduate journalism programme, and co-editor of TheatreVoice, Sierz uses in-yer-face theatre to describe work by young playwrights who present vulgar, shocking, and confrontational material on stage as a means of involving and affecting their audiences.
Simon Gray employs the colloquial slang term in your face to describe contemporary theatre dialogue in his play Japes, which premiered in London, in early February 2001. In the play, Michael Cartts, a middle-aged author, rages against a new kind of writing that he describes as "in your face". After watching a new play by a young playwright, Cartts describes the stage characters as follows:
[They] had the impertinence, no, the hubris to utter those most terrifying of words, "I love you," [but] what did they mean by them? They meant "I've fucked you and now I need to fuck you again, and possibly a few more times after that and I'll be jealous, insane with jealousy if anyone else fucks you" .... All they do is fuck each other and all they talk about is how they do it, and who they'd really rather be doing it with or to—and they don't cloak it in their language .... No words that even hint at inner lives, no friendships except as opportunities for sexual competition and betrayal, no interests or passions or feelings, as if the man were the cock, the cock the man, the woman the cunt, the cunt the woman, and the only purpose in life to ram cock into cunt, jam cunt over cock .... And you know—you know the worst thing—the worst thing is that they speak grammatically. They construct sentences. Construct them! And with some elegance. Why? Tell me why? (Little pause.) Actually, I know why. So that the verbs and nouns stick out—in your face. In your face. That's the phrase, isn't it? That's the phrase! In your face!
Appropriating the slang British spelling used by the band In Yer Face, extending the theatrical contexts exposed in Gray's play Japes, and, as the OED observes, employing the more-frequently-hyphenated adjectival form, Sierz used in yer face in his category "in-yer-face theatre" as defined in his book of that title.
Process of critical categorising
The process of appropriating and applying such a pre-existing phrase or concept to describe new theatrical works provides a critical means of "categorizing" or "labelling", and some critics have stated, "pigeonholing", or "domesticating" ("taming") them. The creation of in-yer-face theatre parallels the history of more-prevalently accepted literary-critical coinages by critics like Martin Esslin (Theatre of the Absurd), who extended the existential philosophical concept of the Absurd to drama and theatre in his 1961 book of that title, and Irving Wardle (Comedy of menace), who borrowed the phrase from the subtitle of The Lunatic View: A Comedy of Menace, by David Campton, in 1958 reviews of productions of Campton's play and of The Birthday Party, by Harold Pinter, applying Campton's subtitle to Pinter's work.
In-yer-face theatre was never a movement and I've never said that it was. You can't sign a manifesto, buy a membership card or join a march in favour of in-yer-face theatre and, as I never tire of explaining to the people who email me about it, in-yer-face theatre is not an actual theatre building, nor is it a theatre company. […] Instead, in-yer-face theatre is both a sensibility and a series of theatrical techniques.
2002 conference on "in-yer-face theatre"
"In-yer-face theatre" was debated at a two-day conference at the University of the West of England, held in 2002, at which Sierz was a keynote speaker. Sierz's own report on the conference is archived on his website.
In summarising the results of the conference, co-conveners Graham Saunders and Rebecca D'Monté observe that Sierz acknowledged that by 2002 "in-yer-face theatre" had already become an historical phenomenon (a trend of the past; hence, passé), going on to state:
Despite its title, the conference also became a forum in which the current state of new writing in British theatre was discussed. David Eldridge, in the opening address, saw many of the plays from the period as a direct response from 'Thatcher’s Children' – the generation who had grown up in a period in which the British Left seemed fractured and directionless, the Cold War escalated and free market economics brutally re-shaped our society and culture. Eldridge warned of the mythologies and self-aggrandising agendas that can grow up when writers are placed in 'movements', and what [alluding to the Donmar Warehouse] he called the current trend of 'Donmarization' in British theatre, whereby major Hollywood stars have been recruited in order to make a new play more palatable to audiences.
Another conference report, published by Writernet, states: "to be shackled to a specific era or genre places a responsibility on a play and creates expectations before a reading or performance. In essence, it disrupts the artistic integrity through preconceived notions of a play because of a simplified label. Plays and playwrights risk being annexed or 'ghetto-ised' when given a superficial monolithic focus."
Writernet adds: "This problem was reflected in number of papers from all over the world, which primarily explored the works of Sarah Kane and Mark Ravenhill through theoretical lenses of postmodernism, metaphysical theatre, Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty, and Lacan. Through no fault of the organizers – this was apparently an accurate reflection of the conference submissions."
Yet, this report observes also that, "In his own defense, Sierz stipulated that 'in-yer-face' was not a movement, but an 'arena' or 'a sensibility'," and that "In-yer-face theatre describes only a part of the body of works during the 1990s." It notices, moreover, that Sierz "accepted the limitations of his book and the label, acknowledging it as both London-centric and limited in its scope."
Nevertheless, it cites "Max Stafford-Clark (founder of Out of Joint and Joint Stock theatre companies and ex-artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre and the Traverse in Edinburgh)," who, "when asked about plays in the 1990s," reportedly observed that "Everybody’s looking at the same view, so the paintings are bound to have similarities."
Notable people associated with in-yer-face theatre
According to Sierz, "The big three of in-yer-face theatre are Sarah Kane, Mark Ravenhill and Anthony Neilson"; in listing 14 "Other hot shots" in "Who?" on his website, Sierz adds the following qualification: "Of course, some writers wrote one or two in-yer-face plays and then moved on. Like all categories, this one can't hope to completely grasp the ever-changing reality of the explosive new writing scene."
- (1991) The Pitchfork Disney by Philip Ridley
- (1992) The Fastest Clock in the Universe by Philip Ridley
- (1993) The Treatment by Martin Crimp
- (1993) Killer Joe by Tracy Letts
- (1993) Penetrator by Anthony Neilson
- (1994) Ghost from a Perfect Place by Philip Ridley
- (1994) Butterfly Kiss by Phyllis Nagy
- (1994) Trainspotting by Harry Gibson, an adaptation from the eponymous novel by Irvine Welsh
- (1995) Blasted by Sarah Kane
- (1995) Mojo by Jez Butterworth
- (1996) Shopping and Fucking by Mark Ravenhill
- (1996) The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh
- (1997) Attempts on Her Life by Martin Crimp
- (1997) The Censor by Anthony Neilson
- (1997) Closer by Patrick Marber
- (1998) Yard Girl by Rebecca Prichard
- (1998) Cleansed by Sarah Kane
- (1998) Real Classy Affair by Nick Grosso
- (2002) Stitching by Anthony Nielson
- (2005) Mercury Fur by Philip Ridley
- Simon Donald – The Life of Stuff
- John Roman Baker – Easy, In One Take, East Side Skin
- Peter Rose - Snatch
- Finborough Theatre
- Fringe theatre
- Marlborough Pub and Theatre
- New Drama, a Russian theatre movement sometimes likened to In-yer-face theatre:17
- Sierz, Aleks (2001). In-Yer-Face Theatre: British Drama Today. London: Faber and Faber Limited. ISBN 978-0-571-20049-8. Retrieved 12 November 2020.
- Boston University International Programs: Academic faculty Archived 24 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine including a brief biography of Aleks Sierz.
- See Lizzie Loveridge, Review of Japes, CurtainUp, 8 February 2001.
- Susan Hollis Merritt, Pinter in Play: Critical Strategies and the Plays of Harold Pinter (1990; Durham and London: Duke UP, 1995) 5, 9, 225–28, 326, citing Wardle.
- Martin Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd, 3rd ed. With a new foreword by the author (1961; New York: Vintage [Knopf], 2004).
- Irving Wardle, "The Birthday Party", Encore 5 (July–Aug. 1958): 39–40; rpt. in The Encore Reader: A Chronicle of the New Drama, ed. Charles Marowitz, Tom Milne, and Owen Hale (London: Methuen, 1965) 76–78 (reissued as: New Theatre Voices of the Fifties and Sixties [London: Eyre Methuen, 1981]); "Comedy of Menace", Encore 5 (Sept–Oct. 1958): 28–33; rpt. in The Encore Reader and New Theatre Voices 86–91.
- Michael Billington, Harold Pinter (1996; London: Faber & Faber, 2007) 106.
- "It's IN-YER-FACE!". Retrieved 31 May 2017.
- "The Life of Stuff and In-Yer-Face Theatre – Theatre503 The Life of Stuff and In-Yer-Face Theatre – Book online or call the box office 020 7978 7040". theatre503.com. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 31 May 2017.
- Neilson, Anthony (20 March 2007). "Don't be so boring". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 May 2017.
- "STR Events: February 2010 Lecture". str.org.uk. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 31 May 2017.
- "News 2002: 'Shocking' Plays have Academic Appeal," press release, University of the West of England, 30 August 2002.
- Aleks Sierz, Archive 2: Conference Reports: University of the West of England 2002. In-Yer-Face Theatre website, inyerface-theatre.com. Retrieved 9 June 2008.
- Graham Saunders and Rebecca D'Monté, "Theatre's Shock Therapy" Archived 28 June 2006 at the Wayback Machine, School of English, University of the West of England (UWE), HERO (primary internet portal for academic research and higher education in the UK), September 2002.
- "In-Yer-Face? British Drama in the 1990s", University of the West of England, Bristol, 6–7 September 2002, Writernet 2003. Retrieved 9 June 2008. (Conference report posted on writernet.co.uk, in both HTML and PDF versions).
- Quoting from an interview with Elaine Aston, in Caryl Churchill (Plymouth: Northcote House Publishers, 1997) 5.
- Aleks Sierz, "Who?", In-Yer-Face Theatre website. Retrieved 9 June 2008.
- Aleks Sierz, "Still In-Yer-Face? Towards a Critique and a Summation", New Theatre Quart. 18.1 (2002): 17–24; published online by Cambridge University Press, journals.cambridge.org. Retrieved 9 June 2008.
- Sierz, Aleks (2008). "'"We All Need Stories": The Politics of In-Yer-Face Theatre'". In D’Monte, Rebecca; Saunders, Graham (eds.). Cool Britannia? British Political Drama in the 1990s. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 23–37. ISBN 9781403988126.
- David Eldridge, "In-Yer-face and After"[permanent dead link], Intellect 23.1 (Mar. 2003): 55–58. (Abstract.)
- Kate Ashfield originated the role of Lulu in Shopping and Fucking, by Mark Ravenhill, in Max Stafford-Clark's September 1996 production of Shopping and Fucking, at the Royal Court Theatre, as listed in the Out of Joint production archive. Retrieved 9 June 2008.
- "Alex Jones", as listed by Aleks Sierz, In-Yer-Face Theatre website. Retrieved 9 June 2008.
- "Tabut Mag". Retrieved 31 May 2017.
- Sierz, Aleks (16 February 2010). NEW WRITING SPECIAL (Speech). Lecture entitled Blasted and After: New Writing in British Theatre Today, about in-yer-face theatre in 1990s and its aftermath, given by Aleks Sierz at a meeting of the Society for Theatre Research, at the Art Workers Guild. London. Retrieved 10 November 2020.
- Sierz, Aleks (24 May 2012). Modern British Playwriting: The 1990s: Voices, Documents, New Interpretations. Great Britain: Methuen Drama. p. 233. ISBN 9781408181331.
- Sierz, Aleks. "New writing in British theatre today (1998)". inyerfacetheatre. Retrieved 12 November 2020.
- Blog post: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO IN-YER-FACE THEATRE? on Alek Sierz's website
- "Edinburgh Festival Day 9: Reviews". 24 August 1993. Retrieved 31 May 2017.
- Zap Art Archive Archived 7 February 2015 at the Wayback Machine;
- Film: East Side Skin (2003);
- Ruble, Blair A. (2011). Urals Pathfinder: Theatre in Post-soviet Yekaterinburg (PDF). Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. p. 17. ISBN 978-1-933549-77-4.
- Dromgoole, Dominic. The Full Room: An A-Z of Contemporary Playwriting. London: Methuen, 2002. ISBN 0-413-77134-2.
- Eldridge, David. "In-Yer-face and After"[permanent dead link]. Intellect 23.1 (Mar. 2003): 55–58. (Abstract.)
- Eyre, Richard and Nicholas Wright. Changing Stages: A View of British Theatre in the Twentieth Century. London: Bloomsbury, 2001. ISBN 0-7475-5254-1.
- Gray, Simon. Japes. London: Nick Hern Books, 2001. ISBN 1-85459-470-2.
- "In-Yer-Face? British Drama in the 1990s". University of the West of England, Bristol. 6–7 September 2002, Writernet 2003. Retrieved 9 June 2008. (Conference report posted on writernet.co.uk, in both HTML and PDF versions).
- "News 2002: Shocking Plays Have Academic Appeal." Press release. University of the West of England 30 August 2002. Retrieved 9 June 2008.
- Saunders, Graham, and Rebecca D'Monté. "Theatres Shock Therapy". School of English, University of the West of England (UWE). HERO (primary internet portal for academic research and higher education in the UK) September 2002. Retrieved 9 June 2008. (Account of In-Yer-Face? British Drama in the 1990s, a two-day conference held at the St. Matthias Campus of the University of the West of England, in Bristol, England, on 6 and 7 September 2002.)
- Sierz, Aleks. In-Yer-Face Theatre: British Drama Today. London: Faber and Faber, 2001. ISBN 0-571-20049-4.
- –––. "Still In-Yer-Face? Towards a Critique and a Summation". New Theatre Quart. 18.1 (2002): 17–24. Published online by Cambridge University Press, journals.cambridge.org. Retrieved 9 June 2008. (Abstract. Subscription required for full access.)
- "'In Yer Face' Theatre" – A "Drama Guided Tour" at PeoplePlayUK: Drama History Online. Retrieved 1 May 2008. [A feature of the official website for London's Theatre Museum: National Museum of the Performing Arts. "Discover More" menu provides production photographs of specific plays with more information about them.]
- In-Yer-Face Theatre – Website of Aleks Sierz ("Aleks Sierz's in-yer-face theatre website"). Retrieved 1 May 2008. (Includes hyperlinked Archive 2: Conference Reports.)
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- NEW WRITING SPECIAL - Audio recording of lecture given by Aleks Sierz entitled 'Blasted and After: New Writing in British Theatre Today' at a meeting of the Society for Theatre Research, at the Art Workers Guild, London on 16 February 2010.