Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Master of Arts


Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA)


Faculty of Communications and Creative Industries

First Supervisor

Dr Maggi Philips

Second Supervisor

Chris Edmund


Peter Barnes, acknowledged as one of Britain's most important contemporary playwrights, writes plays that are of an enormous scale, both physically and intellectually. Red Noses is one such play. Like Barnes' other works, Red Noses makes great technical demands on directors, designers, actors and audiences. As with all of Barnes' plays, Red Noses is, moreover, informed by a wide variety of theatrical styles. As Bernard Dukore (1990, p. 65) states, actors may be required to quickly "switch from intellectual discourse, to period argot, to poetry, to modern slang, to rhetoric, to musical comedy, to ritual, to dance, to opera, to slapstick. .. " Furthermore, all of Barnes' plays operate, as Stephen Weeks (1996, p.46) points out, "as much through the boldness of their visual imagery as through the inventiveness of their language." All plays in performance are polysemic, with the various systems of signs in dialogical relation. Barnes' play Red Noses foregrounds the polysemic process. The systems of signs that operate within any play in performance may be defined as discrete languages. Some of these languages are non-verbal, such as the use of theatrical space and the movement of bodies within that space, scale of settings and sound and visual effects. This project looks at the verbal and non-verbal polysenic texts in Red Noses in performance. Mikhail Bakhtin's theories are usually applied to verbal and, in particular, printed texts. Indeed, Bakhtin (1981, p.266) himself has stated that the organisation of languages in drama does not allow for the dialogic interpenetration of one language by another. Nevertheless, this project will examine whether the non-verbal language systems of production and performance challenge or extend Bakhtin' s theories of language. Barnes' plays are often referred to as anarchic or carnivalesque. with his theatrical style working as an analogue to his stated aim of seeking to disrupt the social order of contemporary society (Barnes, 1996a, p. viii; Barnes, 1996b, p. x). Some critics have defined Barnes as an iconoclastic writer, but this begs the question as to whether Barnes' iconoclasm is conservative or radical. Is there a reaffirming of the hierarchies of social and political power as a result of the upside-down world created in Red Noses, or is there the promise of a new and ongoing process of change? The object of this project is to explore these questions through the rehearsal and performance processes of a production of Barnes' play Red Noses. The play will be reassessed through Bakhtin's theories of carnival, polyphonic discourse and dialogics, taking particular account of rehearsal and performance processes. In addition to problems of interpretation this project enters the debate about problems of texts in performance. The project can also be expected to generate useful research into performance itself as research.