Modern Theatre: 'In Yer Face' Theatre
'In Yer Face' theatre describes the wave of new writing in the 1990s that was aggressive, raw, confrontational and angry. Designed to assault the audience's sensibilities it explored the gut-wrenching extremes of the human condition and rammed the most extreme excesses of contemporary society down its throat. Many of the characters are morally reprehensible and the language is aggressive and raw.
Sarah Kane's 'Blasted' in 1995 caused one of the biggest press outcries against this brutal form of theatre. The play, which contained rape and cannibalism, was condemned as morally reprehensible. The Daily Mail called it a 'disgusting feast of filth'.
However, Kane was not the first young writer to create work that shocked the sensibilities of the press. Anthony Neilson's 'Penetrator' which opened at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh in 1993 with a terrifying knife attack, had critics asking whether such a play should have been put on at all.
One of the most successful 'In Yer Face' productions was Mark Ravenhill's 'Shopping and Fucking' which opened at the Royal Court in 1996. 'A shocker in every sense of the word', declared The Daily Mail.
'In an institution designed to rid society of its undesirables, a group of inmates try to save themselves through love.' This was the young playwright Sarah Kane's précis of her third play 'Cleansed' produced in 1998 at the Royal Court.
The nightmarish institution that Kane imagined, violently and systematically tortured its inmates, and scenes included the (fatal) injection of heroin into an eyeball, violent amputation, male rape and suicide. Unsurprisingly, critics were shocked and outraged by what they saw (as they had been with the violence of Kane's first play 'Blasted').
Some, however, also recognised that the play's power did not stem purely from its shock value. Kane's works are visually ambitious, and their message is positive to an extent. Although love leads to acts of violence in the play, it also produces the only moments of tenderness and escape. The Royal Court Theatre production of 'Cleansed' also avoided the graphic brutality of 'Blasted' with a more stylised production.
'Yard Gal' was about two teenage escapees from a children's home in Hackney, in North East London. The girls drink, take drugs, prostitute themselves and provoke other girl gangs into vicious fights. There are times when they are depressed and frightened, but for much of the play, they are sassy, lippy and ready with witty, quick-fire comments
'Yard Gal' was written for Clean Break Theatre Company which works with prisoners and ex-offenders. 26-year-old author Rebecca Pritchard spent nine months as a creative writing tutor in a women's prison, and then wrote the play which was produced at the Royal Court Theatre in 1998. It won the Critics' Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright.
The annual production with professional actors (Sharon Duncan-Brewster and Amelia Lowdell in this case) is the company's public voice. It aims to raise awareness of issues around women and crime, but also to raise the profile of Clean Break and advertise other work. The company runs an accredited education and training programme and provides a national outreach programme as well as touring their shows to women's prisons.