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Quorum Drama Seminar Series: Sita Balani – Wednesday 22 March 2017
22nd March 2017 @ 6:00 pm - 8:00 pmFree
Quorum is a series of research seminars in the drama department at Queen Mary. All events are free and open to everyone. Drinks and snacks provided. Arts One building, RR2.
Continuing our themes of capital and imperialism, we welcome Sita Balani.
Staging identity-talk: “Albion” and “Men in the Cities”
In this paper, I will offer an account of how identity shapes the political field in twenty-first-century Britain through a reading of two plays: Men in the Cities by Chris Goode performed at the Royal Court, July 2015, and Albion by Chris Thompson, performed at Bush Theatre, October 2014.
Drawing on Mahmood Mamdani’s ‘culture-talk’ (1996), I use the term identity-talk to describe an understanding of politics as being enacted through identity that has come to shape public culture and political discourse in contemporary Britain. At the heart of identity-talk is a conception of the self that is predicated on sexual freedom, albeit a severely constrained version of sexual freedom that is contoured by love, choice and marriage, and in which homonormativity and homonationalism do considerable political work.
As the ‘War on Terror’ has become embedded in everyday life, the points of reference in the discourse of identity have proliferated, reorienting raciology through religion and situating Islam as the ‘other’ par excellence. In contemporary British discourse, the Far Right, ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ and homosexuality are configured into a matrix, which is reproduced in various guises. Homosexual desire functions as a conduit, bringing different groups into connection through the premise that sexual desire is at the core of an authentic self.
Albion and Men in the Cities engage explicitly with identity-talk, lifting their plot lines and reference points directly from the news cycle, and foregrounding sexual desire as a mode of connection. They stage many of the different iterations of masculinity (homosexual, model minority, terrorist, banker, nationalist, hipster) that that populate the collective imaginary in 21st century Britain. Through a comparative reading of their formal qualities, examining the playtexts and performances, I suggest that Albion and Men in the Cities show the ways in which different theatrical forms can be deployed to contest or reproduce the flattening, mechanistic logic of identity-talk.
Sita Balani is a PhD candidate in the English Department at King’s College London, supervised by Paul Gilroy and Mark Turner. She is also an Associate Lecturer at Goldsmiths College and Birkbeck College, teaching in the Centre for Cultural Studies and Psychosocial Studies respectively. Her research explores neoliberalism and national identity in contemporary British cultural production, drawing on novels, memoirs, films and performances. Previous research includes a fresh perspective on the underwritten topic of the British Asian corner shop, which took an interdisciplinary approach, combining literary, historical and ethnographic material. She has contributed to Feminist Review, Open Democracy, Ceasefire, Photoworks, and Novara Media.