Theatre Survey

Writing the History of an Alternative-Theatre Company: Mythology and the Last Years of Joint Stock

Sara Freeman 

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The work of Joint Stock Theatre Company is the stuff of alternative theatre mythology. A self-defined socialist company that premiered plays like David Hare's Fanshen and Caryl Churchill's Cloud Nine, the group is known as one of Britain's most enduringly innovative alternative-theatre groups, in part because of those playwrights' success, in part because of such famous actors and directors as Max Stafford-Clark and Bill Gaskill, whose visions forged the group. But the history of Joint Stock's final years is not well known, despite the existence of a company history, The Joint Stock Book. Although it might seem that the group lost touch with its artistic imperative after 1985 and that it closed amid the generally harsh climate for alternative theatre created by the arts-funding policies of the conservative government of Margaret Thatcher (in office during 1979–90), that is not entirely true. Reorganized in 1985–6 to maximize racial and gender parity in the company, Joint Stock produced significant work and traversed important cultural and political terrain until 1989, when it closed both because of lost funding and because of the decisions of individual artists.