7 February 2018 / Events

The Curtain Will Remain Up: Naturalist Theatre & The Problem of Pornography

Presented by Dan Rebellato

From the very beginning, Naturalist theatre had to defend itself against the accusation that it was mere pornography. Émile Zola insisted, in his preface to Thérèse Raquin, that he wrote the book ‘I found myself in the same position as those artists who copy the nude body without feeling the least stirrings of desire’, but he was widely disbelieved. Naturalism’s actors, writers, directors and audiences were all said to be using high-minded talk about scientific objectivity and truth-telling to mask their real depravity. Its images of prostitution, adultery, childbirth, abortion, venereal disease, lesbianism and sexual assault, performed in intimate theatres, often with the lights very low raised all manner of fin-de-siècle fears about cultural degeneracy and the decline of public morality. Now we tend to see this as sheer prudishness, a reactionary philistinism that did not want to recognise Naturalism’s unflinching examination of society’s taboos.

But is it that simple? In this talk, I want to suggest that it is difficult entirely to separate the Naturalistic from the pornographic and that explaining why uncovers the fascinating complexity of Naturalist theatre as a cultural moment. To explore this topic, I will be exploring some of the lesser-known figures in the hinterlands of the movement: the obsessive anti-Naturalist Antoine Laporte, the mischievous Professor Desjardins, and the curious case of the Théâtre Réaliste.

Dan Rebellato is Professor of Contemporary Theatre at Royal Holloway University of London. His books include 1956 and All That, Theatre & Globalization, Contemporary European Theatre Directors, The Suspect Culture Book and Modern British Playwriting 2000-2009. He is currently writing a book on Naturalist theatre for Routledge. He is also a playwright and his plays for stage and radio include Here’s What I Did With My Body One Day, Static, Chekhov in Hell, Cavalry, My Life Is a Series of People Saying Goodbye, and Emily Rising. He was lead writer on Radio 4’s epic 27-episode adaptation of Zola’s ‘Rougon-Macquart’ novels, starring Glenda Jackson.


7 February 2018




Swedenborg Hall, Barter Street, London WC1A 2TH, UK