(In)famous Angel: The Cherub Company and the Problem of Definition

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Title: (In)famous Angel: The Cherub Company and the Problem of Definition
Author: Cook, Brian
Abstract: This dissertation examines the effects of conventionally categorizing working artists and looks specifically at the Cherub Company, London, as a case study. Cherub was an alternative British theatre company whose work in the 1980s defied most of the categories which inscribed theatre practice in Britain. Because they did not fit canonical definitions, Cherub was said to be producing “bad” theatre. When governments, critics or historians use a canonical approach to separate the supposedly good from the bad, artists who do not conform are often ignored and become lost to history. In order to genealogically trace the influence of the Cherub Company and to accurately depict its legacy, this dissertation examines both the company’s archive and repertoire as well as the field of cultural production in which it operated. British theatre in the late 1970s was often hostile to foreign performance techniques, led by the opinions of the theatre staff of the Arts Council of Great Britain, the primary issuer of government arts subsidy. Cherub’s production of Two Noble Kinsmen melded a classic English text with Eastern European production methods and was derided by the ACGB. This response along with similar views on the company’s other early productions formed the backbone of the ACGB’s contention that Cherub should not receive subsidy. Despite the company’s maturation, demonstrated by the international success of their production of Kafka’s THE TRIAL,which won a Fringe First at the Edinburgh Festival, the ACGB continued to refuse subsidy. Eventually the company was selected by the British Council, a government organization whose mission was to send quality British cultural products abroad, for numerous international tours. These tours allowed the company to stay alive during the difficult years of the mid-1980s, though this also meant they were rarely producing in the UK. Ultimately, the company would lose its prominence, and though they continued producing into the new millennium, they never regained their former stature. Cherub’s story demonstrates that historiographic impact and importance should not be limited only to those who achieve conventional success, and this dissertation represents a more inclusive and less power-centered model for documenting and writing history.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1794/12369
Date: 2012

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