Professor Graham Saunders PhD

Photograph of Professor Graham Saunders

Department of Drama and Theatre Arts
Allardyce Nicoll Chair in Drama

Contact details

Address
Room 109, Alan Geale House
Selly Oak Visual Arts Centre (SOVAC)
The Old Library
998 Bristol Road
Selly Oak, Birmingham
B29 6LG

I joined the department in January 2016, after teaching at the University of Reading since 2005 in the department of Film, Theatre and Television. I have also taught at the universities of Coventry, Lancaster and the University of the West of England (UWE).  I also studied at the University of Birmingham as an undergraduate (joint honours English & Drama,1991-4) and completed my PhD here in 1997.

I co-ordinate research in the department in relation to the College of English, Drama and American and Canadian Studies (EDAC) and from next academic year will also take on the role of overseeing postgraduate research in the department.

In terms of my own research I dabble in a number of areas. I am probably best known for my early work on the playwright Sarah Kane, but these days I work more generally in British drama since 1945. This has included work on the history of the Arts Council of Great Britain; fringe and touring companies from 1968-1994, as well as the work of dramatists including Edward Bond, Howard Barker, Patrick Marber and David Eldridge. I have also published on the work of Samuel Beckett and I have a long standing interest in the relationship between contemporary British dramatists and their appropriation of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama.

Qualifications

  • B.A (Joint Hons) English & Theatre Studies, University of Birmingham,1994.
  • PhD in English, University of Birmingham. ‘British Dramatists since 1970 & their use of Shakespearian & Jacobean Drama’. Awarded 1997.

Biography

I joined the department in January 2016 after teaching at the University of Reading since 2005 in the department of Film, Theatre and Television. I have also taught at the universities of Coventry, Lancaster and the University of the West of England (UWE).  I also studied at the University of Birmingham as an undergraduate (joint honours English & Drama,1991-4) as well as completing my PhD here in 1997.

I have been a contributor to the section ‘Drama since 1950’ for The Year’s Work in English Studies. Since 2012 I have been an advisory board member for the journals Contemporary Theatre Review and Studies in Theatre & Performance.

Teaching

I teach / have taught on the following modules:

  • Convenor of Dramatic Medium (Year 1), Modern Drama (Year 2), Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama (Year 2), British Theatre (Year 2), Multimedia Beckett (Year 3), Adaptation (Year 3).

Postgraduate supervision

I am interested in supervising postgraduate research in any area of British theatre from 1940 to the present and in particular the work of dramatists. Other interests include the work of the Arts Council of Great Britain 1945-1994 and related issues of funding; British alternative / 'fringe' theatre and performance from 1968-1994; Shakespeare and contemporary appropriation of his work; the theatre, television and wireless drama of Samuel Beckett.

I have supervised the following PhD theses:

Kate Katafiasz, 'An investigation into Dramatic Practice in the work of Edward Bond'. Part-time PhD student. Completed 2011.
Tony Coult. 'The Arts Council and Theatre in Education 1945-1994.' PhD student attached to the AHRC funded project 'Giving Voice to the Nation'. Completed 2015

I am currently co-supervising the following postgraduates:

Gary Cassidy. 'The Rehearsal Processes of Playwright Anthony Neilson and the Role of the Actor Within It.' AHRC funded studentship.
Matthew McFrederick. 'A Historiography of Productions of Samuel Beckett’s Drama in London'. AHRC funded PhD student attached to the project Beckett in Performance.
Diem Metin. 'Modern Jacobean Tragedy in Sarah Kane’s Plays.'


Find out more - our PhD Drama and Theatre Studies  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.

Research

As a ‘dabbler’ my research is focused on a number of areas. Currently, together with colleagues at the Universities of Leeds, Reading and Goldsmith’s College, London in two AHRC research bids. One of these plans to look at the legacies associated with Harold Pinter’s work; the other also look at legacies, this time focused around the British ‘alternative’ / fringe theatre between 1968-1994, and how current performance practice might beneficially make use of these legacies.

I am currently under commission for Palgrave’s Adaptation and Performance series, (edited by Vicky Angelaki, University of Birmingham and Kara Reilly, Exeter University) to write a monograph entitled, Elizabethan and Jacobean Re-appropriation in Contemporary British Drama: Upstart Crows. My next written project will be to complete an article on a little known short play/sketch by the dramatist Joe Orton called ‘Until She Screams’ and its place within the battle against theatre censorship in Britain during the late 1960s.

Since 2009 I was involved in two major AHRC funded projects:

  • 2009 -2014. Principal Investigator on ‘Giving Voice to the Nation’: the Arts Council of Great Britain & the Development of Theatre & Performance in Britain 1945-1995. This five-year project was awarded £763,000 & involved work on the archive of the Arts Council of Great Britain, housed at the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Theatre Collection. The project employed two post-doctoral researchers (based at the V&A) & two PhD students (who received their doctoral awards in 2015). Co-Investigators were Professor John Bull (University of Reading) & Dr Kate Dorney (V&A (now at Manchester University)).
  • 2012-2015. Co-investigator on Beckett in Performance: Approaches to Directing the Plays of Samuel Beckett in the United Kingdom and Ireland (1955 - 2010) was a cross-institutional project (Principal Investigator- Professor Anna McMullan, University of Reading & other Co-Investigator Professor David Pattie at the University of Chester), that made extensive use of existing, but underexploited archives to look at the impact of Beckett’s theatre practice in the UK.

Other activities

Public lectures and conference papers

I was invited to give keynote addresses at the following conferences / symposia:

  • Invited guest speaker to the Society of Theatre Research, London, 16 April 2015, The title of the Paper wasBeckett Goes Nude: Breath, Oh! Calcutta!  & the Sexual Revolution’.
  • Keynote speaker as part of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London. This was part of a series on ‘The Art of Psychiatry’, Wednesday 26 June 2013. The talk looked at issues of psychiatry in the work of Sarah Kane
  • Keynote speaker at one-day symposium at the University of Rome: ‘Innovazione E Tradizione Nella Drammaturgia Britannica Contemporanea E La Su Ricezione In Italia’, 21 June 2013. The title of the paper was ‘“Upstart Crows”: Or Why Rewrite Shakespeare and his Contemporaries.’
  • Arcadias: Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale and Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. Invite speaker at a conférence organized by the universités Paris-Sorbonne and the Sorbonne Nouvelle, 14 & 15 October, 2011.
  • Panellist on Sarah Kane: A life. Birmingham Book Festival, 11 November 2010.
  • Keynote address at Sarah Kane Festival, National Theatre of Cluj, Romania 4-7December 2008.
  • Invited paper. ‘The Persistence of the “Well Made Play” in 1990s British Theatre’. Non-Standard Forms of Contemporary Drama & Theatre, Heidelberg Germany, 17 -20 May 2007. Paper subsequently published.
  • Invited paper. ‘The Reception of Political Theatre in the 1990s’. How do we Receive Reception? Symposium hosted at Royal Holloway, University of London, 25 May 2007.
  • Invited paper. ‘Spectatorship in the Theatre of Sarah Kane’. What Public? Contemporary European Drama on the Lookout for its Spectator. University of Zurich, Switzerland, 14-16 April 2005. Paper subsequently published.

Conference papers

  • ‘Beckett Goes Nude: Breath, Oh! Calcutta!  & the Sexual Revolution.’ Paper given at the Samuel Beckett Society Inaugural Conference. Phoenix, USA, 19-20 February, 2015. This paper is due to be published.
  • ‘Flagships & Rowing Boats:  The (Un) Resistible Rise of Tara Arts & Talawa 1980-1987.’ Paper given at the International Federation of Theatre Research conference, Re-routing Performance / Re-caminant l’escena, Barcelona, Spain, July 22nd-July 26th, 2013. Material from this paper was subsequently published in British Theatre 1989-1994: From Fringe to Mainstream, London: Bloomsbury, 2014.
  •  ‘“Every Part of Merry England”: the Arts Council’s Regional “Gatherings” 1969-1970.’ Paper given at The International Federation of Theatre Research conference,Cultures of Modernity. Santiago, Chile, 2012.
  • ‘Dinosaurs Playing the Rubik Cube: Alternative British Theatre in the 1980s’. Paper presented at The American Society of Theatre Researchconference,Theatrical Histories, 1-4 November, 2012, Nashville, USA. Material from this paper was subsequently published in British Theatre 1989-1994: From Fringe to Mainstream, London: Bloomsbury, 2014.
  • ‘In-Yer-Face Tots and Trots: The English Stage Company Young People’s Theatre Scheme 1966-1985. ESSE Conference, September 4-8 Istanbul, Turkey. Material from this paper was subsequently published in the edited collection Ethical Speculations in Contemporary British Theatre, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2014.
  • ‘Foco Novo: The Icarus of British Small Scale Touring Theatre’. Paper given at the American Society of Theatre Research, Economies of Theatre’ 17-20 November 2011, Montreal, Canada. Material from this paper was subsequently published in the edited collection, Britishness, Aesthetics and Small-Scale Theatres. Bristol: Intellect, 2013.
  • ‘From Provocateur to Queer Politico: Mark Ravenhill in the 1990s and Beyond’. Paper given at conference, Contemporary British Theatre: Towards a New Canon. Birmingham City University, Birmingham 16 October 2010. Material from this paper was subsequently published in Decades of Modern British Playwriting: Voices, Documents, New Interpretations, London: Methuen, 2012.
  • ‘“Prizes for Modernity in the Provinces”: The Arts Council’s 1950-51 Regional Playwriting Competition’. Paper presented at the conference Cultures of Modernity, University of Munich, Germany 25-31 July 2010. Paper subsequently published in the journal History Research, 2012.
  • ‘Tickets, Critics & Censorship: The Royal Court & The Spectator 1969-1970.’ Paper presented at the International Federation of Theatre Research conference, University of Lisbon, Portugal 14 -18 July 2009. Paper subsequently published in the journal Theatre Notebook, 2010.
  • ‘“Monstrous Assaults”: Howard Barker, Erotics, Death & the Antique Text’. Paper presented at the conference, Howard Barker’s Art of Theatre, 10-12 July 2009, Aberystwyth University Wales. Material from the paper was subsequently published in the edited collection Eroticism & Death in Theatre and Performance, Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press, 2010.
  • ‘The Great Chinese Takeaway: the Strange Case of Absent Orientalism in Contemporary British Playwriting’. Paper given at The International Federation of Theatre Research, conference,Re-Constructing Asian-ness (es) in the Global Age’, 14-19 July 2008, Chung-Ang University, Seoul, Korea. Paper subsequently published in the journal Contemporary Drama in English (CDE), 2005.
  • ‘Barrie Keefe's & Caryl Churchill's New City Comedies’. Paper presented at the Contemporary Drama in English conference, Adaptations – Performing Across Media & Genres. University of Siegen, Germany, 1-4 May 2008. Paper subsequently published in in the journal Contemporary Drama in English (CDE), 2008.
  • ‘“Getting Closer”: Patrick Marber’s Excursions into the Pinteresque.’ Paper presented at the conference, ‘Artist & Citizen’: 50 Years of Performing Pinter. University of Leeds, 12 -14 April 2007. Paper subsequently published.
  • ‘“Reclaiming Sam for Ireland”: The Beckett on Film Project & National Identity’. Paper presented at Beckett at 100: New Perspectives, Florida State University, Tallahassee, USA, 9-11 February 2006. Paper subsequently published in the edited collection, Irish Theatre in England. Dublin: Carysfort Press, 2007
  • ‘” A Theatre of Ruins”: Edward Bond & Samuel Beckett: Theatrical Antagonists.’ Paper presented at Page & Stage: 50 Years of Performing Beckett, University of Leeds, 20-22 June 2003. Paper subsequently published in the journal Theatre Research International
  • ‘Beckettian Motifs in the Work of Sarah Kane’. Paper presented at Beckett & Modern Theatre, University of Sydney, Australia 6-9 January 2003. Paper subsequently published in Irish Theatre in England. Dublin: Carysfort Press, 2007.
  • ‘Edward Bond & the Celebrity of Exile’. Paper presented at Comparative Drama conference, Columbus, Ohio USA, 24-26 April, 2003. Paper subsequently published in Theatre Research International, 2004.
  • ‘“Out Vile Jelly”! Shakespeare’s King Lear & Sarah Kane’s Blasted’. Paper presented at the conference, Scaena: Shakespeare & his Contemporaries in Performance. St John’s College Cambridge, 9-11 August 2001. Paper subsequently published in New Theatre Quarterly, 2004.

Conferences organized

  • Staging Beckett: Contemporary Theatre and Performance Cultures, University of Reading, 10-11 April 2015.
  • Staging Beckett: Constructing Performance Histories, University of Reading, 4-5 April 2014.
  • Staging Beckett: Beckett at the Margins, University of Chester, 11-12 September 2014.
  • Turning the Page: Funding New Writing 1945-2013,13-14 September, 2013, University of Reading.
  • Subsidy, Patronage & Sponsorship: Theatre and Performance Culture in Uncertain Times, 19-21 July, 2012, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
  • English Theatre and the Impact of the Cork Enquiry, Kingston University, 10 September 2011.
  • Regional Spaces, National Stages: Performance Beyond London 1945-2010. University of Reading, 17 September 2010.
  • In-Yer-Face? British Drama in the 1990s. University of the West of England, Bristol, 6 -7September 2002. The edited volume, Cool Britannia? British Political Theatre in the 1990s arose from papers delivered at this conference.

Knowledge transfer, enterprise and outreach

  • Arts Council Seminar Series February – March 2013. Three seminar presentations to Arts Council England staff on the history of their organization, presented by the AHRC funded Giving Voice to the Nation team.
  • Invited panellist at Ocean Nord Theatre Brussels, 15 March 2008, for a public symposium on Sarah Kane to mark the theatre’s production of 4.48 Psychosis.
  • Post-show discussion with director Thomas Ostermeier to discuss his production of Hedda Gabler. Barbican Theatre London, 28February 2008.
  • Invited panel speaker at one-day public symposium on the work of Sarah Kane, Barbican London, 10 November 2006 (www.barbican.org.uk/education/event-detail.asp?ID=4551).
  • Talk given to sixth form students at Charles Darwin School, Kent on the work of Sarah Kane. 15 October, 2006.
  • Invited panel speaker at pre-show discussion of Sarah Kane’s play Phaedra’s Love at Bristol Old Vic, 1 November 2005.
  • Invited speaker on panel to discuss the work of Sarah Kane,Royal Court Theatre, June 20 2002.
  • Invited speaker at British Council’s Ciclo de Autor dedicated to Sarah Kane. Teatro Pradillo, Madrid, Spain, 5February 2002.
  • Post-show interview with director Grzegorz Jarzyna on his production of Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis, 26 March 2010, Barbican Theatre, London.
  • Introductory programme notes for Brussels Theatre Company (Ocean Nord) production of Sarah Kane’s play 4.48 Psychosis, prior to a European tour (May 2008).

Broadcasts and interviews

  • Interviewed by Aleks Sierz (with Prof John Bull & Kate Dorney), November 2013 for audio broadcast on TheatreVoice website (www.TheatreVoice.com ), on the work of the AHRC Giving Voice to the Nation project.
  • Interviewed by Aleks Sierz in August 2009 for audio broadcast on TheatreVoice website (www.Theatrevoice.com) to mark publication of About Kane: the Playwright & the Work.
  • Invited panel speaker at post-show discussion of Sarah Kane’s play Cleansed, Arcola Theatre London, 22nd November 2005. Audio broadcast on www. Theatrevoice.com
  • Interviewed for publication in Hildegard Klein & Pilar Zozaya, (eds.) British Theatre of the Nineties: Interviews with Directors, Playwrights, Critics & Academics, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007, 208 pp ISBN 978-0-230-00509-9. Interview, pp. 172-85.

Publications

Recent publications

Book

Saunders, G 2017, Elizabethan & Jacobean reappropriation in Contemporary British Drama: 'Upstart Crows'. Adaptation in Theatre and Performance, Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Vos, LD & Saunders, G (eds) 2011, Sarah Kane in context. Manchester University Press, Manchester, UK.

Article

Saunders, G 2019, 'Masters (and Mistresses) of Menace', Journal of Contemporary Drama in English, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 12-28. https://doi.org/10.1515/jcde-2019-0002

Saunders, G 2018, '‘His Last Bow’: Harold Pinter’s Genre Disobedience in Sleuth (2007)', Coup de Théâtre, vol. 32, pp. 41-58. <http://radac.fr/index.php/en/journal/>

Saunders, G 2017, 'A Last Hurrah? Joe Orton's 'Until She Screams,' Oh! Calcutta! and the Permisive 1960s', Studies in Theatre and Performance, vol. 37, no. 1, pp. 1-16. https://doi.org/10.1080/14682761.2017.1309835

Saunders, G 2012, 'Prizes for modernity in the provinces: The Arts Council's 1950-1951 regional playwriting competition', History Research, vol. 2, no. 6, pp. 391-397.

Saunders, G 2012, 'The freaks roll call: live art and the Arts Council 1968-1973', Contemporary Theatre Review, vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 32-45.

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Saunders, G 2015, Historical & Cultural Background (chapter 1) & British Theatre Companies 1980-1994 (chapter 2): I wrote chapters 1 and 2. in British Theatre Companies 1980-1994. vol. 2, Methuen, London, pp. 1-48 & 49-114. <http://sfxeu07.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/bham?isbn=1408175517%20,9781408175514%20,9781408175484%20,>

Chapter

Saunders, G 2020, “A Shop Window for Outrage”: Harold Pinter’s Ashes to Ashes, In-Yer Face Theater and the Royal Court’s 1996 West End Season. in After In-Yer-Face Theatre Remnants of a Theatrical Revolution. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Saunders, G 2016, Beckett goes nude: Breath, Oh! Calcutta! and the sexual revolution. in D Tucker & P McTighe (eds), Staging Beckett in Great Britain. Methuen, pp. 197-214.

Saunders, G 2014, Kicking Tots and Revolutionary Trots: The English Stage Company Young People’s Theatre Scheme 1969-70. in M Aragay & E Monforte (eds), Ethical Speculations in Contemporary British Theatre. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, pp. 190-206.

Saunders, G 2014, ‘Anyone for Venice? Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and Arnold Wesker’s Shylock’, Coup de Théâtre: Variations Contemporaines Autor de Shylock. in C Khiele & T Agathe (eds), Coup de Théâtre: Variations Contemporaines Autor de Shylock,. vol. 28, RADAC, Paris.

Other chapter contribution

Saunders, G 2013, Foco Novo: the Icarus of British small scale touring theatre. in P Duggan & V Ukaegbu (eds), Reverberations across Small-Scale British Theatre. Intellect, Bristol.

Saunders, GJ 2012, Mark Ravenhill. in A Sierz (ed.), Modern British playwriting: the 1990s: voices, documents, new interpretations. Bloomsbury Methuen Drama , London, UK.

Saunders, G 2011, David Eldridge. in M Middeke, PP Schnierer & A Sierz (eds), Methuen Drama Guide to Contemporary British Playwrights. Methuen, London, pp. 144-163.

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