Dr Bill McDonnell


Theatre Workshop
Shearwood Road
S10 2TD


Between 1975 and 2002 I worked in alternative theatre as a performer, writer and facilitator. This work took place for the most part at community level, and within political and activist contexts. My experiences, both in Britain and with Republican community theatres in Ireland during the 'Troubles', formed the basis of my PhD, which I completed in 2002.

I was appointed as a Teaching Fellow in the Department of English Literature in 2000 and became a full-time member of staff in 2004. I am currently Subject Director for Theatre, and Director of the Acting Together Community Education programme.


My research focuses on political and community theatre practices and embraces:

  • Theatre, the Irish Troubles, and the Peace Process (1969-2005)
  • Liberation theatre and pedagogy, with an emphasis on the relationship between workshop methods and activism
  • Alternative Theatres, including political, avant-garde and community models
  • Applied Theatre
  • The ethics of radical theatre practice and its historiography

My writing since I took up a full-time post in 2004 has included a study into the social impact of theatre for Arts Council England, and a monograph on the role of working-class community Republican and Loyalist theatres during the Troubles in Ireland.

I have recently completed an essay on socialist theatre company Cartoon Archetypical Slogan Theatre (CAST) for a new Methuen series edited by John Bull and Graham Saunders at Reading University.

The series draws upon the recently released Arts Council of Great Britain archives. I am currently writing a monograph, Theatre and Social Engagement - the theory and practice of theatre in community development (Methuen, 2015).

I am an Associate Fellow of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics.


I am a Senate Fellow for Teaching and Learning, and have a particular interest in the theory and practice of experiential learning, working with partners in Sheffield Education and Museums Sheffield to create community-based and socially engaged learning environments for theatre in education and practice research modules.

Much of my teaching is research-led, and another keen interest is in archive-based approaches to understanding the theatrical past.

My undergraduate teaching includes the core theatre modules Theatre Practice: Research Project, and Working with Texts, alongside specialist courses on theatre in education and the alternative theatre movement. I convene the MA Theatre and Performance module, Texts, Politics and Performance.


I welcome applications from potential PhD students in any of the areas in which I research.


  • Social Impact in UK Theatre (London: ACE, 2006)
  • Theatres of the Troubles: theatre, resistance and liberation in Ireland (Exeter: UEP, 2008). Shortlisted for the 2008 Theatre Book of the Year
Book chapters
  • ‘CAST’, in British Theatre Companies: From Fringe to Mainstream, ed. by John Bull and Graham Saunders (London: Methuen, 2015)
  • ‘John Arden’, in Modern British Playwriting, the 1960s: voices, documents, new interpretations, ed. by Steve Nicholson (London: Methuen, 2012), pp. 108-134
  • 'Theatre, Community and Liberation - reflections on “hard” interventionary theatre', in Theatre as Social Intervention, ed. by John Somers and Michael Balfour (Toronto: Captus Press, July 2006), pp. 2-12
  • 'A Good Night Out on the Falls Road: Liberation Theatre and the Nationalist Struggle in Belfast 1984 – 1990', in Radical Initiatives in Interventionist and Community Drama and Politics, edited by Peter Billingham (Bristol: Intellect, 2004), pp. 25-54
Journal articles
  • ‘The People’s Impresario: Roland Muldoon at the Hackney Empire’. Theatre Notebook, Vol 67, No 2 (2013), pp. 39-53
  • Experiential Learning in Museum Theatre - towards a model of "thick practice’’'. Journal of Arts and Communities. Vol 3, No 1 (2011), pp. 57-71
  • ‘Say the Word “Non”’. Parallax 16:3 (2010), pp. 118-128. Co-authored with Frances Babbage, Steve Nicholson and Terry O’Connor
  • 'Jesters to the Revolution – a short history of CAST'. Theatre Notebook, Vol 64, No 2 (2010), pp. 96-111
  • ‘To Speak Your Truth’: Dialogues on Political Theatre and the Troubles’. With Joe Reid. Kritika Kultura 14, (2010) pp. 093-112. Special edition on ‘Radical Theatre and Ireland (1)’ edited by Victor Merriman
  • 'The Politics of Historiography – towards an ethics of representation’ Research in Drama Education, Vol 10, No 2 (June 2005), pp. 127-138
  • 'Towards a Theatre of "little changes": a dialogue about dialogue'. Research in Drama Education, Vol 10, No 1 (February 2005), pp. 67-73