documentary theatre or theatre of fact



  • A genre of play based directly on historical and documentaryrecords. Created in Germany in the 1950s, the form was much influencedby the US Living Newspaper. The first work in the genre toattract international attention was The Case of J. Robert Oppenheimerby Heinar Kipphardt, which opened in 1964 in Berlin in aproduction directed by Erwin Piscator. The play dealt withthe development of the atomic bomb and the allegations of disloyaltymade against the nuclear scientist Oppenheimer during the McCarthywitch-hunts of the 1950s.

    Other pioneers of the form were Peter Weiss (1916 - 82)and Rolf Hochhuth. Weiss's play The Investigation,about the Frankfurt trials of perpetrators of the Auschwitz atrocities,was produced simultaneously at 14 German theaters in 1965. His documentaryabout the Vietnam War, Vietnam Discourse, was produced in 1968in Frankfurt. Hochhuth denounced Churchill for the bombing of Dresdenin Soldiers, which had its first English-language productionin 1968 in Toronto, then played Broadway and London. In Britain, PeterBrook presented the experimental documentary work US,about US intervention in Vietnam, in 1966. When it opened at the AldwychTheatre it was described as "the ultimate non-play so far".

    Recent years have seen a notable revival of documentary theaterwith such productions as the Tricycle Theatre's The Colourof Justice (1999), which dramatized the enquiry into the murderof Black teenager Stephen Lawrence, David Hare's The PermanentWay (2001), which was based on interviews with those involvedin the privatization of Britain's railways and survivors of thedisastrous accidents at Ladbroke Grove and Potters Bar, and Lucy Prebble'sEnron (2009), about the scandal surrounding the collapse of the giant US energy company.