Module Spotlight: Post-War and Social Abjection
My personal favourite module in second year was Post-War British Theatre and Social Abjection, which was run in the first term by Nadine Holdsworth. I loved both the content and the delivery of the module, and it was definitely the one I looked forward to the most in my week!
In our module, we looked at different ‘abject’ groups – groups who are more on the edges of society – and plays relating to their experience. We looked at a different abject group each week, including homelessness, class and immigrants. In general, this involved reading or watching 2 plays/films on the subject, such as Cardboard Citizen’s ‘Cathy’ for homelessness, which we would then discuss in class.
The focus in the module was looking at ways that identities of abject people are constructed and how they can be challenged. For example, with ‘Cathy’ we discussed the play’s position as a piece of forum theatre to explore ways of changing the protagonist’s situation, and how the audience’s responses were taken to the House of Lords, enacting real social change with homelessness. Looking at the plays in this way enabled us to consider the issues more broadly whilst having a structure that we could draw on when thinking about it.
One thing I especially loved about the module was the way the seminars were run. Nadine used a combination of small group exercises and whole class discussion, which meant that we always heard a variety of voices and opinions on the subjects. This sometimes led to some interesting discussions around the issues and the ways that they affected us, especially on the week focusing on a Black experience in Britain. I also liked that the small group exercises meant we could discuss things in more depth with the people around us, so we always had something to say in the larger class discussions.
I also enjoyed the two assessments we had. While they were challenging at points, they also allowed us to look further into the subjects that interested us.Our first assignment was a research poster looking at different media representations of a certain abject group. For this one, I chose homelessness, looking at a sketch from ‘That Mitchell and Webb Look’, a series of anti-homeless adverts, and Ed Sheeran’s song ‘A Team’. The creative element of putting the posters together was quite fun and got me thinking about visual representations as well as the work. I also loved seeing how people chose to present their work, with one person creating an exercise book to explore travellers and the school system, while another created a version of defensive architecture (structures designed to stop homeless people from settling in a place, such as divisions on a public bench) out of tinfoil.
Our second assessment was an essay. We were given a choice of several titles, some of which were specific to one subject, whereas others were more general. I chose a more general title and wrote about my two favourite plays we had studied on the module – ‘Cathy’ from the homelessness week, and ‘Fall of the Kingdom, Rise of the Footsoldier’ from the week on Black Britain. Choosing these contrasting plays allowed me to think about representation and change in a very different way to just studying them individually, and I actually really enjoyed the process of writing this essay!
Overall, I loved the module and would definitely say to do it if you have the chance! As someone who is interested in the representation of different groups and wants to look at how both the media and theatre construct group identities, the module was perfect for me. Nadine was really supportive and the classes were well structured, and whilst the assessments could be challenging they were also super interesting and rewarding.