Debris from the ‘dispersal zone’: digital documents, diegesis and the documentary theatre

Paper given at the International Federation for Theatre Research conference (IFTR) at School of Drama, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile.


The document today is still conceived in light of its eighteenth century juridical status as an object that serves as proof of fact. In this conception, it is rooted in a culture of writing whose authority resides, in part, in the delimitation of experience through signs and their referents. The inscription of signs on durable media surfaces, such as a manuscript, title-deed, tombstone, coin, picture, etc., attached to a signature, time and place of production conspire in the construction of this authority. Furthermore, the institutional capacity to safeguard documents by consigning them to the taxonomic regime of the archive continues to underwrite the epistemological boundaries of the document.

In contrast, the ontological boundaries of the document – or what the document can be or do – tend to form in the interstices between institution and individual; in territories of cultural practice where experiment, reflexivity and risk are more prevalent. This is the case, for example, of documentary theatre. The technological and cultural changes to the constitution and usage of documents often preempt, outperform even, the capacity of the institution to validate and integrate new document formations within its order of signification. In such instances, the document can be said to operate outside the validating frame of the institution as a hybrid, discursive object, capable of bringing established orders of knowledge to crisis.

In this paper, I propose an analysis of digital document formations in the wake of the August 2011 riots in London through a detailed reading of the Tricycle Theatre’s latest documentary theatre production, The Riots. Written by Gillian Slovo and directed by Nicholas Kent. The production integrated an array of digital and analogue document typologies and I analyse the ways in which this played for and against the geo-social complexity of social unrest.

Cover photo: Wikimedia. Outside view of Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn, 2007.

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