‘Homer’ Tackles Aeschylus

Theatrical Adaptation as Process in Anne Washburn’s Mr Burns and Robert Icke’s Oresteia


  • Alison Middleton University of Oxford




This article explores the limitations of Linda Hutcheon’s definition of adaptation as distinct “product” and “process” (2013), when applied to ancient theatre and its reception in twenty-first century performance. Two modern productions are used to problematise this binary: Anne Washburn’s Mr Burns (2014) and Robert Icke’s Oresteia (2015), both of which showcase theatre’s inherent status as ephemeral ‘process’. This article borrows Paul Davis’ notion of “culture-text” (1990) alongside terminology from Lawrence Venuti (1995) to describe the multiplicity of influence and interpretation that is so central to theatrical adaptation. Erika Fischer-Lichte’s theorisation of theatre as constituted by “co-presence” (2008) is also used to distinguish live performance from other forms of creative adaptation (e.g. film, literature), as is its inherent futurity (Hall 2013, Langer 1953). Interpretation and memory, integral processes within adaptation, are considered as subjective and fragmentary, following Saidiya Hartman’s perceptions on chosen inheritances (2006) and Donna Haraway’s conception of “situated knowledges” (1988). Margherita Laera’s non-linear temporal conception of both theatre and adaptation (2014) is explored, revealing the cyclical dialogue of temporalities particular to the theatrical adaptation process.

Keywords: Greek theatre; adaptation; translation; memory; Aeschylus; Anne Washburn; Robert Icke; Oresteia; Mr Burns; Orestes