Why Verse Drama?

I’m the writer of Free for All, Richard O’Brien, and I’m working on a PhD about the decline of plays written in iambic pentameter since Shakespeare made the format famous.

What can verse do that prose can’t? What does theatre gain from using language in a way that goes beyond the restrictions of naturalism? And how do writers, actors, and audiences respond to a different set of restrictions?

Until Mike Bartlett’s 2014 King Charles III, there hadn’t been a smash-hit verse play since Christopher Fry’s The Lady Not for Burning in the 1950s. Critics such as Charles Spencer have responded to poetic verse as a tedious relic and as something which puts audiences to sleep. On the other hand, Shakespeare is the world’s most performed playwright, so there must be something in dramatic verse which audiences still respond to.

Now, with Haunted House Theatre, I’m hoping to demonstrate that contemporary poetry can work onstage.

For the majority of the history of theatre, plays were written by poets. They didn’t start from a realist desire to produce a faithful reproduction of the world – they worked poetically, running on language, creating magic and spectacle from the building blocks of words worked into a certain shape. But since Shakespeare’s day, this form of theatre has been less and less frequently explored, and I want to challenge that status quo.

Thanks to funding from the Midlands3Cities Cohort Development Funding and a successful Kickstarter campaign, audiences in the Midlands will also be able to experience contemporary verse drama, with a tour in late January of Leicester, Birmingham and Nottingham venues. Alongside the production, Haunted House will offer talkback sessions and workshops on this little-known field for actors, writers and directors. Further discussion of the ideas behind the production can be found in the articles and interviews collected on my website. A couple worth checking out to begin with are here and here.

We welcome comments and responses to the use of verse in the production, and how poetry in the theatre works for a modern audience: you can leave them here, or write to us at hauntedhousetheatre AT gmail DOT com.


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