|dc.description.abstract||Since the 1980s, there has been an increasing emphasis on drama, in live theatre and on film, which re-addresses the ways in which the post-colonial histories of Australia and New Zealand have been written. Why is there such a focus on 'historical' drama in these countries at the end of the twentieth century and what does this drama contribute to wider debates about post-colonial history? This thesis aims both to explore the connections between drama and history, and to analyse the interface between live and recorded drama.
In order to discuss these issues, I have used the work of theatre and film critics and historians, supplemented by reference to writers working in the field of postcolonial and performance theory. In particular, I have utilised the methods of Helen Gilbert and Joanne Tompkins in Post-Colonial Drama: Theory, Practice, Politics, beginning with their claim that in the post-colonial situation history has been seen to determine reality itself. I have also drawn on theorists such as Michel Foucault, Linda Hutcheon and Guy Debord who question the 'truth' value of official history-writing and emphasize the role of representation in determining popular perceptions of the past. This discussion is developed through reference to contemporary performance theory, particularly the work of Richard Schechner and Marvin Carlson, in order to suggest that there is no clear separation between performance and reality, and that access to history is only possible through re-enactments of it, whether in written or performative forms.
Chapter One is a survey of the development of 'historical' drama in theatre and film from New Zealand and Australia. This includes discussion of the diverse cultural and performative traditions which influence this drama, and establishment of the critical methodologies to be used in the thesis. Chapter Two examines four plays which are intercultural re-writings of canonical texts from the European dramatic tradition. In this chapter I analyse the formal and thematic strategies in each of these plays in relation to the source texts, and ask to what extent they function as canonical counter-discourse by offering a critique of the assumptions of the earlier play from a post-colonial perspective. The potential of dramatic representation in forming perceptions of reality has made it an attractive forum for Maori and Aboriginal artists, who are creating theatre which has both a political and a pedagogical function. This discussion demonstrates that much of the impetus towards historiographic drama in both countries has come from Maori and Aboriginal writers and directors working in collaboration with white practitioners. Such collaborations not only advance the project of historiographic drama, but also may form the basis of future theatre practice which departs from the Western tradition and is unique to each of New Zealand and Australia. In Chapter Three I explore the interface between live and recorded performance by comparing plays and films which dramatise similar historical material. I consider the relative effectiveness of theatre and film as media for historiographic critique. I suggest that although film often has a greater cultural impact than theatre, to date live theatre has been a more accessible form of expression for Maori and Aboriginal writers and directors. Furthermore, following theorists such as Brecht and Brook, I argue that such aspects as the presence of the live performer and the design of the physical space shared by actors and audience give theatre considerable potential for creating an immediate engagement with historiographic themes. In Chapter Four, I discuss two contrasting examples of recorded drama in order to highlight the potential of film and television as media for historiographic critique. I question the divisions between the documentary and dramatic genres, and use Derrida's notion of play to suggest that there is a constant slippage between the dramatic and the real, between the past and the present. In Chapter Five, I summarize the arguments advanced in previous chapters, using the example of the national museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, to illustrate that the 'performance' of history has become part of popular culture. Like the interactive displays at Te Papa, the texts studied in this thesis demonstrate that dramatic representation has the potential to re-define perceptions of historical 'reality'. With its superior capacity for creating illusion, film is a dynamic medium for exploring the imaginative processes of history-making, while the fundamental power of the theatre in representing history is that in the live performance the spectator symbolically comes into the presence of the past.||en_NZ