5 January 2021 / Grants and Awards

New light on Katie Mitchell

Benjamin Fowler received a research grant in 2019 towards image costs for his study of the work of Katie Mitchell. He writes for us here:

Katie Mitchell: Beautiful Illogical Acts
by Benjamin Fowler (Lecturer in Drama, Theatre & Performance, University of Sussex)

Coinciding with the arrival of a new year, my monograph on the British theatre director Katie Mitchell is now available from Routledge. It was supported by an STR grant that went towards image reproduction costs and features 19 images, five of which came from the Ivan Kyncl archive acquired by the V&A museum in 2018.

Ivan Kyncl, the son of a Czech dissident journalist, arrived in London as a political refugee in 1980 and established a career that made an art of theatre photography, capturing over 500 plays, operas and musicals on light-sensitive film – often in trademark monochrome and framed by his distinctive, poetic eye – before his death in 2004. Aided by Simon Sladen, a curator of the V&A’s Theatre & Performance collection, I spent an exciting afternoon back in 2019 trawling the vast library of Kyncl’s assiduously archived negatives (over a million, making it one of the richest chronicles of the British stage in the late 20th century) to discover pictures of productions directed by Mitchell that I have not seen reproduced elsewhere. These included Mitchell’s only staging of a Shakespeare play to date – Henry VI part 3: The Battle for the Throne – at the RSC in 1994, and her Ghosts in 1993, also for the RSC, starring Jane Lapotaire and Simon Russell Beale.

Two of Kyncl’s evocative photographs documenting these productions, as well as three others illustrating Mitchell’s early work at the NT, now appear in this book alongside images of more recent Mitchell productions at home and abroad taken by Stephen Cummiskey and Gianmarco Bresadola.

More information on the book:

Katie Mitchell: Beautiful Illogical Acts (Routledge 2021) offers the first comprehensive study of Britain’s most internationally recognised, influential, and controversial theatre director. It examines Mitchell’s innovations in fourth-wall realism, opera, and Live Cinema across major British and European institutions, bringing three decades of practice vividly to life.

Informed by first-hand rehearsal observations and in-depth conversations with the director and her collaborators, Fowler investigates the intense and immersive qualities of Mitchell’s distinctive theatrical realism and challenges mainstream narratives about realism as a defunct or inherently conservative genre. He explores Mitchell’s theatre—and its often polarised reception—to question familiar assumptions governing contemporary performance criticism, including common binaries that pit realism against radical experimentation, auteurs against texts, feminists against Naturalism, and Britain against Europe. By examining a career trajectory that intersects with huge cultural change, Fowler places Mitchell at the centre of urgent contemporary debates about cultural transformation and its genuinely inclusive potential.

This is an essential book for those interested in Katie Mitchell, British theatre, directing, the transformative power of realism and feminism in contemporary theatre practice, and challenges to hierarchical distributions of power inside the mainstream.


Katie Mitchell: Beautiful Illogical Acts succeeds in the really complex task of building and sustaining a rigorous theorised argument—not only about Mitchell’s work, but also about the nature and potential of realism as a form more broadly—while also offering detailed analysis of the material context of Mitchell’s practice (including critical reception); the key influences on her practice; and detailed analysis of key performances to demonstrate how both material context and key influences have played their part in her innovations in realism.” Professor Liz Tomlin, University of Glasgow, UK

“Fowler’s book is a game-changer. Packed with rich detail gleaned from years of first-hand research, avowedly feminist, and gorgeously written, Katie Mitchell: Beautiful Illogical Acts reshapes our understanding of the foremost British theatre artist of our time. Essential, urgent reading.” Professor Kim Solga, Western University, Canada

“Benjamin Fowler has written a forceful, personal and highly erudite book about the ground-breaking work of theater and opera director Katie Mitchell. Lit by the fire of his own enthusiasm for her productions and creative process, his analysis is thorough and penetrating. Grounded in his experiences from rehearsals into production, Fowler brings his deep knowledge of world theater to the arc of her trajectory through it. Fowler is uniquely able to contextualize her work and processes in the light of current political and hierarchic conditions.” Anne Bogart

The book can be purchased from Routledge, and is currently available at a generous discount.


Is there anything that you are currently working on that might be eligible for one of our Research Grants? We welcome applications from all kinds of theatre researchers – academics, practitioners, independent scholars.  Closing date for 2021 applications is March 26th.
Full details and application form here.