Margherita Laera – Subverting the ‘Classics’: Adaptation and Resistance

Event Date: 19 November 2015
Room 104
Senate House
University of London
London WC1E 7HU

The London Theatre Seminar presents:

Dr Margherita Laera (Kent) – Subverting the ‘Classics’: Adaptation and Resistance

Contemporary theatres in Europe are currently awash with theatrical versions of ‘classical’ works from antiquity and modernity. The pervasiveness of adaptations on European stages results in a relentless repetition of known narratives that come with an ideological baggage attached, which theatre-makers engage with/reiterate/displace in more or less sophisticated ways, but inevitably re-evoke in the process. In this sense, adaptation would seem to inevitably position itself as a conservative undertaking, and especially so if the adaptation we are dealing with is of a ‘classic’.

This paper argues that the subtle and oppressive mechanism that is the ‘classical’, as discussed by Salvatore Settis in The Future of the ‘Classical’ (2006), can only be undermined by creative responses. But how can resistance to, and subversion of, that mythological mechanism that is a ‘classic’ take place without undermining itself through the inevitable re-iteration that is adaptation? What are the creative, performative and aesthetic tactics that are available to theatre-makers as agents of change through adaptation? Drawing on the work of Chantal Mouffe and Jacques Rancière on resistance and dissensus in the arts, this presentation assesses adaptation strategies adopted in Romeo Castellucci’s Ödipus der Tyrann (2015), Rimini Protokoll’s Prometheus in Athens (2010), Split Britches’ and Bloolips’ Belle Reprieve (1991), and Robert Icke’s Oresteia (2015) amongst others. In approaching the work of a selection of contemporary theatre-makers who serially use adaptation in their artistic output, I ask whether, and how, it may be possible to subvert a particular ‘canonical’ work and resist the ideological mechanism underpinning the very notion of the ‘classical’.

Margherita Laera is a Lecturer in Drama and Theatre at the University of Kent, and the Director of the European Theatre Research Network based in the School of Arts. She is the author of the monograph Reaching Athens: Community, Democracy and Other Mythologies in Adaptations of Greek Tragedy (Peter Lang, 2013) and Theatre and Adaptation: Return, Rewrite, Repeat (Methuen, 2014), and has published articles in Contemporary Theatre Review, Performance Research and TheatreForum. Margherita is the Book Reviews Editor (Europe) for Theatre Research International.

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