Will this thing appear again tonight? – Shakespeare adaptations in the 21st century – a roundtable

Convenor: Dr. Alexandra Portmann (University of Cologne) and Dr. Duška Radosavljević (The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London)


In contemporary theatre practice there is a variety of dramaturgical and aesthetic approaches towards Shakespeare. For example, in the Wooster Group’s intermedial performance of Hamlet (2005) Richard Burton’s Hamlet functions as a contrasting foil which ultimately reveals the dramatic text as a historiographic document being re-enacted. This shift towards the materiality of performance moves beyond a postmodern approach to classical dramatic text and highlights recent trends in performance and theatre practice, which are discussed as artistic ‘re-enactments’ (Schneider 2011, Roselt/Otto 2012). Another distinct approach towards Shakespeare is represented through the work of the German director Thomas Ostermeier. Not only is he working with new translations of Shakespeare in his productions of Hamlet (2007) and Richard III (2015), but his textual adaptation leans towards a specific aesthetic and dramaturgy, which could be associated with the trend the British theatre critic Aleks Sierz has referred to as ‘in-yer-face’: the Shakespearean dramatic text in this case provides a possibility for a collage of various aesthetic styles and therefore refers to the staging tradition of Shakespeare as canonical in European theatrical repertoires too. Furthermore, Slovenian director Tomaž Pandur’s already established visual dramaturgy in his various Shakespeare performances finds new expression in his most recent productions of Richard II and Richard III (2014).

This list of various dramaturgical strategies, ranging over the spectrum of re-enactment, intermedial and the visual can be augmented with the multimedia reworkings of Ivo Van Hove’s The Roman Tragedies (2007) and Kings of War (2015), and the performance collective Forced Entertainment’s Complete Works (2015), a retelling of Shakespeare’s dramas using every-day objects.


In reference to William B. Worthen’s concept of agency (2010), according to which every dramatic text provides certain key moments, which are to be actualised and appropriated within a specific cultural and historical context, we would like to investigate the question, if and how Shakespeare provides a platform for experimenting with new dramaturgical strategies and aesthetics in 21st century. In order to characterise and systematise these strategies, the round table will cover a wide range of approaches to contemporary Shakespearean performance. The aim is to reflect on concepts of adaptation in order to highlight the complex and dynamic relationship of text and performance. Thus, the round table combines drama and performance theory with performance analysis and questions about canon, representation, and repertoire.


The round table will bring academics and theatre makers together in highlighting various dramaturgical and aesthetic strategies in contemporary European theatre.