New Theatre Quarterly

The Contaminated Audience: Researching Amateur Theatre in Wales before 1939

Claire Cochrane 


As concepts of nationhood and national identity become increasingly slippery, so the theatre historian attempting to recover neglected histories submerged within the dominant discourse of the nation state needs to be wary of imposing an ideologically pre-determined reading on the surviving evidence of performance practice and audience response. It is also important to acknowledge that theatre practice which represents the majority experience of national audiences does not necessarily conform to the subjective value judgements of the critic-historians who have tended to produce a limited, highly selective historical record. In attempting to re/write the history of twentieth-century British theatre Claire Cochrane has researched the hitherto neglected area of amateur theatre which was a widespread phenomenon across the component nations. Focusing in this article on the cultural importance of amateur theatre in Welsh communities before the Second World War, she explores the religious, socio-political, and topographical roots of its rapid expansion, and the complex national identities played out in the collaboration between actors and audience. Claire Cochrane lectures in drama and performance studies at University College Worcester. Her most recent book is Birmingham Rep: a City's Theatre, 1962–2002 (Sir Barry Jackson Trust, 2003). She is currently working on a history of twentieth-century British theatre practice for Cambridge University Press.