The Theatre and Its Poor: Neoliberal Economies of Waste and Gold in Les Misérables (1985) and Road (1986)

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    This essay presents a study of the economic and theatrical life of two iconic theatre productions from British theatre in the 1980s: the Royal Shakespeare Company/Cameron Mackintosh production of Les Misérables (1985), and Jim Cartwright’s Road at the Royal Court (1986). These two productions were selected with the aim of exploring theatre’s relationship to poverty in a neoliberal economy. Both productions successfully transformed their respective representations of the poor, and the impoverishments introduced by neoliberal economic policy in the theatre during this period, into enduring forms of monetary and aesthetic value. The production of Les Misérables was the outcome of a public/private partnership that exploited new opportunities for financial speculation emerging at this time. Road’s production was supported by recourse to what the then Royal Court director, Max Stafford Clarke, presented as a pauperized mode of entrepreneurship, developed to adapt to new, economically precarious conditions for subsidized theatre. The essay traces similarities between the economics and aesthetics of the two productions, and draws on these to provide perspectives on theatre’s relationship to the poor. Specifically, it argues that theatre forms productive coalitions with neoliberal economies, which work both onstage and off to transform the “human waste” of impoverishment into gold.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-19
    Number of pages18
    JournalTheatre Journal (Baltimore)
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015


    • theatre, poverty, neoliberalism


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