Originally posted on 18 February 2011.
Though he wrote more extensively about it in his English Drama Since 1940, David Ian Rabey first suggested a “New Expressionism” as one of the strands of contemporary theatre in his 1997 book on David Rudkin:
Rudkin’s drive to express the poetry of otherness, from the wellspring of conventionally submerged inner possibilities, has some affinities with the objectives of the early twentieth century German Expressionists, whose savage and passionate affirmations of Dionysian dynamism sprang defiantly from their profound sense of individual isolation and fascination with sickness and death. In 1917, Kasimir Edschmid described the visionary imagination of the Expressionist writer as crucially different to that of the documentary or social realist: “The Expressionist does not see, he beholds. He does not describe, he experiences. He does not reproduce, he creates. He does not accept, he seeks.” In 1918, Kurt Pinthus extolled drama as “the most passionate and effective form” for expressionism: “There Man explodes in front of Man.” Lotte H. Eisner notes how expressionist phraseology is ruled by a desire to amplify the “metaphysical” meaning of words towards a “total extravasation of self,” where “exterior facts are continually being transformed into interior elements and psychic events are exteriorized.” Michael Patterson observes that “the very name of the movement suggested that … having rejected realism, artistic creation could have its source only in the subjective personality of the artist; and yet, especially in a public medium like the theatre, the artist’s desire to communicate remained intense.” To this end, the Expressionist “sought renewal not in mass movements” but in the “passionate search for individual regeneration,” where dramatic progression is dictated by the writer/protagonist’s search for self-realization as possible redemption of his suffering. Expressionism’s “bold violence of images …” made the theatre once again a place of intense sensory experience.” 
Rabey goes on to mention that Rudkin himself identifies his own drama with gothic art, but I’d like to back up a little to the historical basis of New Expressionism and examine for a moment its relationship to the Neue Sachlichkeit movement that followed it in Germany and which suggests an additional dimension of this description. Although the Neue Sachlichkeit movement is often characterized as a reaction against the internal and personal vision of Expressionist writers and painters, it can in another sense be seen as its continuation. The painters of the Neue Sachlichkeit movement like Otto Dix, George Grosz and Christian Schad reacted against Expressionism’s abstractions but did not entirely abandon them for photo-realism. The paintings and portraits rendered by the painters retained the two-dimensional quality of Expressionist work, which foregrounded all the subjects of an individual painting rather than dispersing some of them through perspective, and in their subject matter seemed to claim some of the dream-like qualities of Surrealism as well. More importantly, the Neue Sachlichkeit movement foregrounded art’s relationship to urban modernity (though, as the above Kirchner painting demonstrates, the Expressionists themselves also rendered urban scenes and subjects).
Schopenhauer’s will operates through urban modernity and its residents as well as any other site, and the new sharpness with which both painters and writers of the Neue Sachlichkeit foregrounded the sensuality of the human body suggests various avenues for the exploration of both New Expressionism and erotic tragedy, especially in its ambivalent relationship to gender roles and erotic experience. In a 2001 study, Richard W. McCormick discusses the emergence of the Neue Sachlichkeit from the decline of the historical Expressionist movement, a movement “that began in German painting around 1905, became important in literature around 1910, flourished just before and during the war (especially in the theatre), but by 1920 was nearly exhausted. Only then, when this once revolutionary aesthetic had begun to degenerate into a fashionable, decorative visual style, did it enter the cinema, and by 1924 it was pretty much over there too.” 
More observations from McCormick follow below.
… I want to make a point of affirming as emancipatory the blurring of fixed gender and sexual identities — not just to take a position that is now much more acceptable, but because the enmity to such blurring seems to me clearly connected to the crimes of the Third Reich. In this I differ with more canonical interpretations of Weimar “decadence”: in my opinion what ought to be celebrated includes precisely that wich has been derided as decadence and “effeminate weakness” by many writers on the left — work in the postwar era on Weimar culture by Peter Gay and by Siegfried Kracauer come to mind….
I disagree strongly with this intepretation both of Weimar culture and of “decadence.” The comparison with the Third Reich is instructive, however, for in that regime “decadence” was denounced as biological degeneracy, a denunciation that was clearly connected not only to anti-Semitism but to misogyny and homophobia as well. As opposed to the open anxieties about gender expressed in Weimar culture, Nazi misogyny was embodied in a cultural politics that had much less space for any acknowledgement of male weakness (except in submission to the state) or for any confusion on the part of either sex about “natural” gender roles — not to mention confusion about “race.” It ought to be obvious today that this drive for clear boundaries and identities led only to barbarism.
In contrast, I want to emphasize again that what was most emancipatory about Weimar’s crises of identity was precisely the blurring and confusion of traditional categories of identity. We find in Weimar culture a relatively open discussion of the hollowness — indeed, cynicism — of the masquerade that prescribed roles and identities seemed to demand. … [In both masculine and feminine masquerade] one notes an anxious attempt to conceal any deviation from traditional norms for gendered behavior. This anxiety in turn can be interpreted as a tacit admission of what Judith Butler has called the performativity of gender roles, a concept that involves the realization that there is no underlying “essence” to them at all: “If gender attributes and acts, the various ways in which a body shows or produces its cultural signification, are performative, then there is not a preexisting identity by which an act or attribute might be measured; there would be no true or false, real or distorted acts of gender, and the postulation of a true gender identity would be revealed as a regulatory fiction.”
… [T]he New Objectivity and Expressionism were in many ways merely two sides of the same “coin,” as it were — a rather undialectical shift from a romantic and idealistic inwardness to a somewhat forced “unsentimental,” materialistic affirmation of the external surfaces of modernity — and it was a transition made by many artists and intellectuals of more or less the same generation. Furthermore, it is clear that to the extent that this move to “sober” New Objectivity was an attempt to come down from the idealist, anti-modern heights of “auratic” art to embrace modernity, the masses, and the metropolis, it was a moved that was marked by ambivalence on the part of the intellectuals and artists who were engaged in it. It is also true that this move can be seen as the attempt of an endangered social group, the intelligentsia, to find a niche for itself in the emerging modern society that preserved some of its former prestige and autonomy. It was also an attempt that largely failed. The book burning in May of 1933, soon after the end of the Republic, would provide the most visible demonstration of this failure. …
But I want to stress again that there is a need to celebrate the emancipatory aspects, especially those emancipatory, indeed utopian moments of “polymorphous perversity” in Weimar culture — an emancipatory “queerness,” if you will, that still fascinates us to this day. I use this term not just to imply a questioning of traditional norms with regard to gender and sexuality, but also to imply a contestation of fixed categories and identities that must be seen as crucial to the project of radical democratic politics. This, I would insist, is a project important for people of all identities. What better legacy from the Weimar Republic can we salvage as we face the new millennium?