This thesis proposes a relationship between Queer Theory and the development of
perfonuance conventions in British theatre in the period 1968 to 1998. The basis of
that relationship is a theoretical account of subjectivity, rooted in feminist and
psychoanalytic critiques of the relationship between sex, gender and sexuality -
primarily in the works of Judith Butler and Elizabeth Grosz. That account challenges
the essential construction of gendered identity and seeks to detail the ways in which
certain subjectivities are rendered legitimate or illegitimate, marked or unmarked.
The notion of conditional subjectivities is first explored through a critical analysis of
camp performance as a form of parody which reflexively invokes that which it
challenges. Round the Home is discussed as an example of the mainstream
acceptance and use of camp, noting in particular the problematic presence of
"polari," a form of gay slang.
The consequent issues of self-identification raised by camp leads to a discussion of
the work of the Gay Sweatshop who sought to control and redefine the representation
of gay subjects in mainstream theatre and television. This issue of authentic
representation as political necessity is then pursued through the work of Tony
Kushner and Ron Athey, considering performative responses to the AIDS crisis and
the reality of subjects marked by AIDS or HIV infected bodies.
The potential impasse created by Queer Theory's account of the material body is
explored through a discussion of unmarked race and desire in Caryl Churchill and
Joint Stock's production of the play Cloud Nine, and in the representation of lesbian
identity in the work of Jill Posener, Jackie Kay and Michelene Wandor.
Finally, issues of representation and legitimacy are explored through the evolution of
Pride from protest march to carnival celebration to offer a potential model of queer
performance not as a radical alternative operating "outside" of normative cultural
discourse, but a process of working the weaknesses within that norm.
The relationship between Queer Theory and British performance in this period
articulates a challenge to essentialist accounts of subjectivity. This challenge is
manifested in a relationship between theatrical performance conventions and
methodologies of political activism: it describes a pursuit of forms of performance
which might account for marginal subjects, recognising the precarious historical and
cultural conditions in which marginal subjects appear at all.