Ambiguous Irony In The Work Of Young Jean Lee and Get In The Back of the Van

Speaker: Sarah Gorman

6.00pm, Monday 6 March
LAB028, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge

Both Young Jean Lee and GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN make female-identified performance but express reservations about identifying as feminist theatre makers. Indeed, Young Jean Lee has said that she, “chafe[s] at the thought of writing an ‘identity’ play” (quoted in Shimakawa 2007: 92).

In this paper, Sarah will argue that both companies explicitly raise questions about gender, feminism, comedy and representation but render their attitude towards these subjects ambiguous by employing irony as a mechanism to problematize sincerity. She proposes that the use of irony in this work marks a desire to move away from the identity-driven performance work popular in the UK and US in the 1980s and 1990s and to identify an alternative way of bringing gender issues to the fore without becoming associated with a fixed ideological position.

Claire Colebrook has warned of the “elitist” nature of irony because “to say something contrary to what is understood, relies on the possibility that those who are not enlightened or privy to the context will be excluded.” (Colebrook 2004: 19). Following Colebrook’s logic, irony has the potential to stratify and divide audiences according to their facility for recognising the relevant signs. Given the complication of potential stratification of those who ‘get’ the joke and those who don’t I investigate the use-value of irony as a tool for contemporary feminist artists and measure its potential for creating scenarios of resistance rather than conservatism.

This free event is part of the Music and Performing Arts Research Series. For more information contact