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Dr Emma Cole (Bristol) Greek Tragedy and the Australian Psyche

The reception of Greek tragedy in Australia largely mimicked its reception in England until the mid-twentieth century.

Event details

The establishment of state theatre companies and the New Wave Theatre movement in the second half of the twentieth century, however, resulted in a series of more localised engagements, and today Australian classical performance receptions are frequently more playful and experimental than their British counterparts. Adaptations now trump translations, and radical reinventions which use the classics as a springboard for entirely new plays are more common than either. Recent productions, for example, have involved Euripides’ prize-winning Bacchae set in a urinal, a chorus of Trojan women murdered, a gender-bending Antigone, and an Iphigenia at Aulis written in a form devoid of named characters and staged without an Iphigenia present on stage at all.

In this lecture I discuss a series of these receptions and both suggest and problematise ways that these engagements reflect the Australian psyche. I argue that today’s ‘gloves-off’ attitude towards the classics is tied to Australia’s complex colonial history and involves an intense localising of Greek tragedy to explore issues of national identity. The plays under discussion indicate that Australian productions of Greek tragedy are an overlooked part of contemporary classical performance reception, and that the classics today are being reclaimed and refashioned to explore pressing socio-political issues in twenty-first-century Australia.