Greek Adaptations


Tuesday 19 November

5-7 pm

Arts & Humanities Common Room - Foster Court G24

This seminar addresses adaptations of ancient Greek plays, with a particular focus upon Attic tragedy. It consists of three academic papers, from Rosa Andújar, Jane Gilbert, and Adam Lecznar, followed by a talk from the director Christopher Haydon, who directed the version of Euripides' The Trojan Women seen at the Gate Theatre in 2012.

Tuesday 14 January

5-7 pm

Venue: The Horse Hospital, Colonnade, London WC1N 1JD

This associated workshop will be led by Christopher Haydon, Artistic Director of the Gate Theatre, London.


Dionysus in Havana: Revolutionizing Greek Tragedy in Cuba

Rosa Andújar

The twentieth century was a formative period for the adaptation of Greek drama in Latin America.  Throughout the century Latin American dramatists repeatedly engaged with their classical forebears in order to interrogate and debate new political, social and religious paradigms.  In this paper I examine some of the region's most innovative adaptations of Greek tragedy: Virgilio Piñera's Electra Garrigó, José Triana's Medea in the Mirror (Medea en el Espejo), and Antón Arrufat's Seven Against Thebes (Los siete contra Tebas), which were staged in Cuba in the years before and after the Revolution.   I discuss the ways in which these Cuban dramatists make use of Greek Tragedy as a medium for political and social expression.  I end with a detailed discussion of Piñera's Electra Garrigó (written in 1941 but staged in 1948), which adopts the choral structure of Greek tragedy while weaving distinctive Cuban elements: Aegithus kills Agamemnon in a ritual that mimics a cockfight, Orestes poisons Clytemnestra with a papaya, and a lone peasant acts as chorus while singing to the tune of the popular ‘Guantanamera’.  Piñera's original mixture of Cuban and classical scandalized its first viewing audience, some of whom considered the play a ‘gob of spit aimed at Olympus.’  Though reviled in its initial performance, Electra Garrigó, which depicts a young generation that engineers the death of its parents, was upheld as a powerful symbol of the revolution led by Fidel Castro and consciously re-performed in the aftermath of the revolution as being emblematic of the transformed nation.


Jane Gilbert

Antigone has been an enormously popular subject for plays since the Jena School’s championing of Sophocles at the turn of the nineteenth century. She seems an appealing heroine, at once vulnerable and courageous, articulate in challenging the establishment on behalf of the individual, the State on behalf of minorities. Modern adaptations, however, reveal considerable unease around the figure and the play: Antigone and Antigone are in many respects uncomfortable role-models, the former intransigent and suicidal, the latter bent on tragedy. In this paper I shall discuss how the problems posed by Sophocles’ play and heroine are negotiated in some modern Antigones, including Griselda Gambaro’s Antígona Furiosa, Femi Osofisan’s Tegonni: An African Antigone and Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona’s The Island

The performance of ethnicity in Wole Soyinka’s Bacchae

Adam Lecznar

In this paper, I will draw on archival material to discuss the first performance of Wole Soyinka’s play The Bacchae of Euripides: A Communion Rite at the National Theatre of Great Britain in the late summer of 1973. I will argue that Soyinka and the National Theatre presented certain characters, including the ‘fully negroid’ slave leader from the chorus of slaves that Soyinka integrates into his adaptation of Euripides, in such a way as to emphasize the performative dimension of ethnicity. This will involve tracing the influence of négritude, a renowned twentieth century movement of black identity, on Soyinka’s writing to demonstrate the way he negotiates a space for a discussion on the limitations of such a movement throughout his Bacchae. I will further suggest that ancient Greek tragedy provides an excellent platform for such a meditation due to its historical role as an accessory to white Western narratives of cultural hegemony.

The Trojan Women at the Gate Theatre

Christopher Haydon

This presentation discusses the commissioning, development and rehearsal process of the 2012 production of Euripides’ Trojan Women from Christopher Haydon's dual perspective as director of the production and artistic director of the Gate Theatre.

The Trojan Women rehearsal process

Christopher Haydon

Christopher Haydon and two actors will demonstrate their textual analysis of the opening pages of the playtext, and then put the scene 'on its feet'. The workshop will be followed by an open discussion.


Christopher Haydon studied at Cambridge University, and trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama, the National Theatre Studio and with Cicely Berry at the RSC. In 2007 he received both the inaugural Chichester Festival Theatre Heller Fellowship and the Channel Four Theatre Director’s Bursary at the Salisbury Playhouse. He is the Artistic Director of the Gate Theatre in London and was formerly an Associate Director at the Bush Theatre.

Directing Credits include: Grounded (Gate Theatre/Traverse Theatre, Winner of a Fringe First Award); The Trojan Women, The Prophet, Wittenberg (Gate Theatre); Sixty Six Books, In The Beginning (Bush Theatre/Westminster Abbey); A Safe Harbour for Elizabeth Bishop (Southbank Centre); Pressure Drop starring Billy Bragg and his band (Welcome Collection); Deep Cut (Sherman Cymru/National Tour); Monsters (Arcola Theatre); A Number (Salisbury Playhouse); Grace (British Council/On Theatre, Theatre Du Poche, Brussels, Belgium); Notes from Underground (Arcola Theatre).

Christopher is also an award winning journalist and has written for: The Guardian, Financial Times, The New Statesman, The Independent, The Scotsman, and Prospect Magazine. He is the co-editor of three books: Conversations on Religion, Conversations on Truth (both published by Continuum) and Identity and Identification (Black Dog/Wellcome Collection).