Gathering and Analysing Information: gaps in the evidence and its interpretation

by Lorna Hardwick
Professor of Classical Studies
The Open University, UK

There is an urgent need for empirical and theoretical research frameworks to be more closely linked and for
practice-based research to be better integrated with the work done by cassicists and theatre historians.

Empirical studies of modern performances are in themselves very far from problematic. Not even the most diligent researcher (with access to a magic carpet) can personally observe and record information about the increasing numbers of modern productions. A wide variety of productions needs to be analysed before judgements can be made about trends in selection of plays, production styles and the broader impact of Greek drama in modern theatre aesthetics and cultural politics. Therefore, to accompany its database of examples (published on-line at, researchers at the Open University's project on the Reception of Greek Texts and Images in Late Twentieth century Drama and Poetry in English have developed a series of short critical essays analysing the subjectivities and cultural and political bias of key sources, such as theatrical reviews, and interviews with theatre practitioners. A photo gallery is being developed to enable a more systematic critique of visual sources and in the future we hope to develop graphics for representing and analysing choreography, movement and the use of different theatrical spaces. There is also a need for fuller information about the financial and other arrangements that allow productions to take place (who 'gets a Chorus' and why and how?). More conceptually sophisticated audience research is also needed in order to inform judgements about the extent to which spectators relate either the ancient plays or modern adaptations to contemporary situations and to their own experience.

The Empirical and the Theoretical
Capturing, recording and interpreting data from modern performance leads both to a re-examination of the ancient evidence and to investigation of the contexts through which the plays have migrated and been interpreted and mediated into modern environments (see Decreus in this issue). In assessing the dialogue between ancient and modern, I see two areas of research as priorities.

The first is the relationship between translation and performance (translation for and into performance). Key problems of interpretation include the relationship between translation and perceptions of performability. Performability is a concept that translation researchers such as Susan Bassnett have rightly problematised, but which remains to be further explored by classicists and performance researchers, especially with respect to the relationship between verbal and non-verbal aspects of performance and the dynamics through which ancient play and modern spectators are brought together. (I have developed aspects of this issue in a chapter 'Staging Agamemnon: the languages of translation' in E Hall, F Macintosh, P Michelakis, O Taplin (eds.) Agamemnon in Performance: 458 BC - 2002 AD, Oxford, forthcoming). Such questions are also valid for performances in the original language, partly because of the trends towards the use of sur-titles, and partly because of the ways in which design, setting, gesture and movement assist the Greekless to interpret the words. There is also a significant trend towards multi-lingual performances. All these factors suggest that new kinds of philological research are needed in order to track the way in which the ancient texts have moved through translations and performances in different times, places and cultures.

The second key area for research is the impact of non-Western theatrical traditions on modern performances and on how relationships to the ancient theatre are perceived. For example, it is increasingly suggested that adaptation for and performance in African theatre has restored awareness of the importance in Greek theatre of song, dance and vocal and visual colour — elements that western European performance traditions have either marginalised or shifted to other genres (opera, burlesque). West-African writers and directors from Wole Soyinka and Ola Rotimi to Femi Osofisan and Femi Elufowoju Jr. work across and between classical and African in both text and performance. Similar arguments can be made in respect of Caribbean and North African use of classical texts. (I have developed some preliminary discussion in 'Greek Drama and Anti- Colonialism: Decolonising Classics' in E. Hall, F. Macintosh and A. Wrigley (eds.) Dionysus since '69: Greek Tragedy at the Dawn of the Third Millenium, Oxford, 2004.) This new work has challenged rigid senses of aesthetic and political security and cultural identity in Western European, North American and African contexts. Nevertheless, such work has often been commissioned from Western metropolitan centres rather than from Africa. Further research (and time) will be needed before judgements can be made about whether this work marks a new hybrid phase in the migratory path of Greek drama, perhaps mapping changes in the exchanging cultures themselves, or whether it is merely the result of a fascination for the exotic with which Western European and North American culture is prolonging its appropriation of ancient drama.

These issues make the reception of ancient drama a key feature of the investigation of cultural change and indicate its potential contribution to performance theory and to cross-cultural understanding in a world in which boundaries of nationality and cultural identity are increasingly recognised as porous.

Lorna Hardwick