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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter April 16, 2014

Bola Agbaje’s Off the Endz. Authentic Voices, Representing the Council Estate: Politics, Authorship and the Ethics of Representation

Katie Beswick


Amongst the many socio-political concerns central to contemporary British theatre, there appears an overriding concern – in terms of the production of new plays – with the notion of “authenticity” in the voice of the authors of new writing. This issue is related to politics as it resonates with concerns about the ability of individual citizens to have their “voices” (Couldry) heard within contemporary structures of neoliberalism. In the UK, pioneering new writing theatres, most notably the Royal Court Theatre, run writing programmes which target economically disadvantaged and minority ethnic communities, and ask members of these groups to use their own experiences as a basis for storytelling. The work produced from these programmes is often marketed by using the “authenticity” of the writer. Authenticity, in this definition, is synonymous with notions of personal experience. Although a focus on authenticity addresses postcolonial concerns regarding the ethics of representation, it also problematically suggests that personal experience is the basis for “authentic” artistic output. This essay examines the portrayal of council estates (British social housing estates) in contemporary play-writing, looking at the issues which might emerge from a commercial focus on the “authentic voice.” It asks how representations might work to intervene in the production of council estate spaces. Drawing on the Royal Court’s recent production Off the Endz (2010), the essay seeks to problematise the notion of the “authentic voice” by considering the Royal Court as a public sphere, where the discourse of contemporary culture might be democratised (McCracken).

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Published Online: 2014-4-16
Published in Print: 2014-5-1

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