The presentation for this week’s workshop can be found here:
This week we looked at the relationship between post-colonial theatre and classical reception, paying particular attention to post-apartheid South Africa and Yael Farber’s Molora and its contemporary restaging of the House of Atreus myth.
We started off thinking about Antigone and its emergence as the vehicle for protest theatre in the last century. The performance history of Athol Fugard’s The Island provided a great example for the way in which real life events could find artistic expression through the adaptation of ancient drama. This particular play is also demonstrative of the extra-theatrical life of Antigone herself, where she performs the role of inspirational figure. This was certainly the case in Ireland, with the four Antigones of 1984 drawing on the potential to read her actions as analogous to the Republican cause. It is interesting to think about ‘Antigone’ as shorthand for rightful protest and resistance, especially in terms of gender. Is it worthy of comment that this symbol of courage and disobedience is a woman?
We also touched upon the oftentimes complicated relationship between post-colonial countries and classical texts and ideas. Two lines of thought have tended to dominate this discussion: 1) that classical literature, drama and ideas are typically imposed by the colonisers as the cultural aspect to their domination and this imposition should be resisted or alternatively, 2) that these texts and ideas can be appropriated by the formerly colonised as an act of resistance or even rebellion. More nuanced thinking, however, challenges the coloniser’s ownership of classical texts and ideas. Kevin J. Wetmore (2002) for example, refuses to read African engagement with the classics in terms of domination or resistance, focusing instead on the inherent similarities between African performance traditions and Greek drama. In a similar vein, Ireland has a tradition of classical learning distinct from British imposition.
We then turned away from Antigone to Yael Farber’s Molora, a theatrical exploration of the immediate post-apartheid politics in South Africa, played out through the relationship between Electra and Clytemnestra. We thought about the staging of Farber’s play and its relationship to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the institution set up to oversee the transition from apartheid to non-racial democracy. The inherently theatrical set-up of the TRC lends itself to restaging, but Farber does so in a way that picks apart the moral ambiguities at the heart of a commission that, through its public profile, invites voyeurism and a complacency towards suffering.
The amnesty application of Jeffrey Benzien, in which the former policeman restaged his favoured torture technique for the Commission, is restaged again by Farber, with Clytemnestra in the role of torturer. We thought about the implications of transferring Benzien’s ‘performance’ to the stage and the effect that the regendering of the torture sequence has for an audience, already familiar with Benzien and the TRC.
Finally, we touched upon what has become a running theme through the last couple of weeks: the effect that Iphigenia has on the characterisation of Clytemenstra, with Farber drawing on Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis.
The entirety of Farber’s Molora can be found on Vimeo and I recommend that you have a look as there is loads more to take away from this play. Things to think about:
- The role of the Chorus. Bearing in mind that the majority of Molora‘s performance run has taken place in the US and the UK, to predominately white audiences, what is the effect of an all-black, female Chorus made up of South Africans?
- The restaging of Benzien’s amnesty appeal is not the only episode of torture that Farber has Clytemnestra inflict on Electra. What do you think about staging torture?
- What do you think about the ending of Farber’s Molora? Electra and Orestes do not kill Clytemnestra but resist the cycle of bloodshed.
For more on Irish Antigones:
McDonald, M. & Walton, J.M. (eds) 2002. Amid our Troubles: Irish Versions of Greek Tragedy. London.
Mee, E.B. & Foley, H.P. (eds) 2011. Antigone on the Contemporary World Stage. Oxford.
Wilmer, S. 1996. ‘Prometheus, Medea and Antigone: Metaphors for Irish Rebellion and Social Change’, Didaskalia 3.1.
For more on Molora:
Van Weyenberg, A. 2008. ‘”Rewrite this ancient end”: Staging Transition in Post-Apartheid South Africa’, New Voices in Classical Reception Studies 3, 31-46.
Van Zyl Smit, B. 2010. ‘Orestes and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’, Classical Receptions Journal 2.1, 114-135.
For more on South Africa and Classical Reception:
Bhambra, K. & Roynon, T. (eds) 2011. African Athenas: New Agendas. Oxford.
Hardwick, L. 2000. Translating Words, Translating Cultures. Bristol.
Hardwick, L. & Gillespie, C. (eds) 2007. Classics in Post-Colonial Worlds. Oxford.
Mezzabotta, M.R. 1999. ‘Ancient Greek Drama in the New South Africa’ [online], Classical Receptions. Available at:
Wetmore, K.J. 2002. The Athenian Sun in an African sky: Modern African Adaptations of Classical Greek Tragedy. Jefferson.
Van Zyl Smit, B. 2008. ‘Multicultural Reception: Greek Drama in South Africa in the Late Twentieth and Early Twenty-First Centuries’, in Hardwick, L. & Stray, C. (eds.) A Companion to Classical Receptions, Oxford.