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Dr Matt Hargrave

Senior Lecturer, Drama

Department: Arts

Matt Hargrave is a Senior Lecturer in Drama , specialising in Performance & Disability and Stand-up Comedy

 Matt Hargrave

Matt joined the Department in 2004 after having worked as a writer and theatre practitioner with many leading theatres and cultural providers including: Northern Stage, New Writing North, Mind the Gap, Live Theatre, and Arts Council England.   Matt’s teaching and research interests include theatre and disability; performance and mental health; and Stand-up comedy.

I studied Politics and Modern History at Manchester University, which was good, but less fun than making things up; so I enrolled on an MA in Contemporary Performing Arts at Bretton Hall College.  Here I discovered that performance was an inexhaustible subject, and it could involve anyone, regardless of age, background or training: it could be vehemently political, or frivolous, or both, simultaneously.  I developed a strong interest in the social application of theatre, particularly through the work of Augusto Boal; and the UK based company, Mind the Gap; and I continued to work as a theatre practitioner until taking up the full-time post at Northumbria.

In 2006 I began a doctoral study of theatre involving learning disabled artists, supported by the AHRC. The companies I collaborated with were frustrated by the lack of critical engagement in their work:  analysis that did exist tended to stress the social, or even curative, benefits of theatre. My research tried to fill this gap, to think about intellectual impairment as a set of performance qualities and as a contribution to theatre.  I considered the work of learning disabled artists in the same way that more mainstream theatre practice is evaluated: as a craft and an artform. Theatres of Learning Disability, the book that resulted from this research, won the Theatre and Performance Research Association’s 2016 Early Career Research Award.

More recently I have become interested in Stand-up comedy, particularly its relationship to mental health. I am currently exploring how comedians talk about mental illness and how comedy has the potential to disrupt normative assumptions about wellbeing.




Campus Address

Lipman 007
Northumbria University
Newcastle upon Tyne

0191 227 3165


PhD (Sheffield); MA Creative Writing (Northumbria); MA Contemporary Performing Arts (Leeds); BA (Hons) Manchester



Research Themes & Scholarly Interests

My overarching research theme is human vulnerability and how it is reflected or redistributed in performance.  I have sought to question why vulnerability is overwhelmingly equated with socially undesirable indicators such as weakness and risk; rather than connectivity and creativity.  In various ways I have tried to persuade readers of the (obvious but often unseen) fact that vulnerability is an aesthetic and social resource to be explored and celebrated.  Perhaps because of this, I am drawn to outsiders, to those practicing at the edge of what constitutes ‘proper’ art.   My scholarly work has focused on those performers under-represented by academic study, for example Theatres of Learning Disability which sought to change the way critical judgements might be made about actors who think and communicate differently; or ‘Dance with a Stranger’ which focused on the aesthetic impact of a dancer’s debilitating illness.

My current research is focused on Stand-up comedians who utilise material about mental illness; and who are adept at harnessing or reframing vulnerability in unusual ways. As a commitment to this project, and as a way of understanding this exacting art form, I also perform Stand-up comedy.

Another important theme in my research has been the commitment to demystifying academic knowledge. My monograph, for example, pioneered the dual format of academic text with an easy read translation.  This was important not only because many of my ‘research subjects’ could not access the full version; it also offered another way of interpreting the same material; and reflected the fact that books are never the ‘last word’, rather stages in a conversation. This conversation has continued to form an impact case study, of which more can be found here.   

Key Publications


 (2015) Theatres of Learning Disability: Good, Bad, Or Plain Ugly? London: Palgrave


Book chapters            

(2018) ‘Dance with a Stranger: Torqueshow’s Intimacy and the Experience of Vulnerability in Performance and Spectatorship’ in O’Grady, A. (ed.) Risk, Participation and Performance Practice: critical vulnerabilities in a precarious world, London: Palgrave


Journal articles

(2014) With Kapsali, M., Ed. ‘Training in a Cold Climate: Edited Transcript of Roundtable Discussion with Catherine Alexander, Alison Andrews, Tom Cornford, Matt Hargrave, Struan Leslie, Kylie Walsh. Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 5(2), pp.219-232.

(2011) With Gee, E., ‘A proper actor? The politics of training for learning disabled actors’, Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 2(1), 34-53.

(2010) ‘Side effects: an analysis of Mind the Gap's Boo and the reception of theatre involving learning disabled actors’ in Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, 15(4), 497-511.

(2009) ‘Pure Products Go Crazy’ in Research in Drama Education, The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance 14:1, 37-54


PGR Supervision

Matt welcomes proposals for written and practice-based PhD projects in the following areas:

  • Applied theatre
  • Comedy
  • Performance and disability
  • Performance and mental health
  • Performance, psychology and psychoanalysis


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