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Adaptations – Performing across Media and Genres (Contemporary Drama in English). Trier: WVT, 2009.

Martin Middeke (General Editor)
Contemporary Drama in English
Contemporary Drama in English
Volume 16
Monika Pietrzak-Franger, Eckart Voigts-
Virchow (eds.)
Adaptations –
Performing across Media and Genres
Contemporary Drama in English
Performing across Media and
Papers given on the occasion
of the seventeenth annual conference
of the
German Society for
Contemporary Theatre and Drama in English
Edited for the society
by Monika Pietrzak-Franger and
Eckart Voigts-Virchow
Acknowledgements ix
Staging the Palimpsest: An Introduction to Adaptation and
Appropriation in Performance 1
‘Under Redevelopment:’ The Tradition of City Comedy in
Contemporary British Drama 19
Theatre History as Adaptation: Nicholas Wright’s Cressida (2000) 33
Galileo and His Children: Adaptation and Contestation in British
Political Theatre 51
Performative Acts: Translating for the Theatre 71
Playing the Novel: A Partial and Promotional Survey of Recent
Methodologies of Stage Adaptations 87
Gospels for the People: Adaptations from the Bible 103
Dermot Bolger’s A Dublin Bloom 119
Adaptations of Visual Material: Paintings, Drawings and Maps 139
From Screen to Stage: The Case of The 39 Steps 153
Performance Meets Activism: The Billionaires for Bush’s Specta-
cles of Protest 169
Sam 2.0: Appropriations, Interpretations and Adaptations of
Beckett on YouTube 185
Gloriana – The Queen’s Two Selves: Agency, Context and Adapta-
tion Studies 205
History Repeating: The Adaptation of the Nuremberg Trials 223
The Spoils of War –The Adaptability of Euripides’ Tro j an Wo m en
for the Representation of War and Conflict on the Contemporary
Stage 235
A House Built on Mud: Stages of Translation and the Theatre of
Rona Munro 251
Cultural Transfer, Translation and Reception of Anglophone
Drama on Viennese Stages in the 20th Century: The Example of
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf 267
Hysterica and Leah: Adaptations of King Lear from Canada and
New Zealand 285
Adaptation: A Way of Going on by Other Means 301
Polly Teale in Conversation 309
Notes on Contributors 319
Indexes 327
With few exceptions, the essays in this volume are based on papers
delivered at the 17th Annual conference of the German Society for
Theatre and Drama in English (CDE), which took place at the
Akademie Biggesee, Attendorn, Germany, under the auspices of Siegen
University, from 1 to 4 May 2008. The CDE Board had the thankless
task of joining the organizers in selecting papers from a record-breaking
sixty-two proposals, which we take as proof of the topicality and
pertinence of the themes and issues addressed at the conference.
We would also like to thank those participants whose contributions
for technical reasons cannot be represented in this volume. A very
special expression of gratitude goes out to Max Stafford-Clark. The
former Artistic Director of The Royal Court Theatre and founder (in
1993) of the touring company, Out of Joint, has been a benign presence
at many a CDE Conference. He graced the Attendorn convention not
only with a memorable paper entitled The Royal Court's ambition:
New plays like classics, but classics like new plays, which encapsulates
his theatrical vision, but also with constant co-operation and input.
Thank you, Max!
Many thanks are also due to playwright Stella Feehily, author of the
acclaimed plays Duck (2003) and O Go My Man (2006), who collabo-
rated with Max to make their talk a resounding success. Jo Clifford
(Edinburgh) held her audience in thrall with a transgendered account of
adapting the Faust myth. The editors wish to thank Aleks Sierz for help
with arranging the keynote speeches.
Theatrical entertainment was provided by ACTS (Stuart Marlow,
Stuttgart), who successfully adapted the American radical writers’ scene
in 1920s Paris to a makeshift stage in Attendorn in their American Cafe
Paris, and by Desperate Thespians, the local student theatre group at
Siegen University, whose very first project Mythtakes arranged found
text clippings into a collage, a loose Theatertext, with impressive wit,
verve and ingenuity. In addition, the DespThesps helped with the
barbecue and with keeping major and minor catastrophes at bay during
the conference.
For invaluable help with the preparation of the manuscript – includ-
ing proofreading, layout formatting and transcription of audiovisual
material, we would like to thank Nadine Sucharda, Seth Hulse, and
Kristina Blume. Kai Hilpisch expertly set up the conference website.
Anna Maria Weber cannot be praised too highly for her expert proof-
reading and handling of manifold clerical tasks before, during, and after
the conference.
Finally, we would like to thank our sponsors, the German Research
Foundation (DFG), the Gesellschaft der Freunde und Förderer der
Universität Siegen, The British Council (especially Marijke Brouwer),
Dr. Erwin Otto at Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier (WVT) and Krom-
bacher Brauerei (especially Dr. Franz Josef Weihrauch). Our sincere
thanks also go out to the entire team that hosted us at the Akademie
Biggesee, where CDE was founded in 1992 – it was a sort of homecom-
Eckart Voigts-Virchow
Monika Pietrzak-Franger
The general editor wishes to thank Christina Wald and Elżbieta
Baraniecka for their work on the manuscript.
Martin Middeke
April 2009
Staging the Palimpsest:
An Introduction to Adaptation and
Appropriation in Performance
In a very real sense, every live staging of a printed play
could theoretically be considered an adaptation in its
performance (Hutcheon 39)
Linda Hutcheon’s passing remark in arguably the most important book
within the recent spate of work that has re-invigorated an ailing adapta-
tion studies, raises interesting theoretical questions. Although hybridity
is inevitable in the ‘actualizations’ of theatre performance and we may,
therefore, posit an innate intertwining of theatre and adaptation, we
habitually only refer to performances as ‘stage adaptations’ when a
significant intertext is visible in the context of the performance – that is:
when a theatre performance is supposed to be overtly intertextual or
intermedial – and when the performance is tied to a palpable, overt
“source” and “adaptors” rather than to the ‘original’ and ‘authors.’ As
many of the essays collected in this volume show, however, the seem-
ingly clear status of an adaptation becomes multi-dimensional upon
closer inspection.
The posterior, even derivative character of drama and theatrical per-
formance encapsulated by the terms ‘after’ or even ‘afterings’ has been
acknowledged and highlighted by many theatre scholars. Helen Ed-
Monika Pietrzak-Franger and Eckart Voigts-Virchow
mundson offers historical evidence of this connection: “Shakespeare
plundered other people’s stories shamelessly. And people didn’t say,
‘That’s not a play, it’s an adaptation’” (qtd. in Logan). The term ‘adapta-
tion’ has gained in critical stature as academia has become more sensitive
to multifarious ‘palimpsestuous,’ ‘impure’ and ‘hybrid’ aesthetic prac-
tices. A recent collection on Intermediality in Theatre and Performance
starts from the assumption that “intermediality is associated with the
blurring of generic boundaries, crossover and hybrid performances,
intertextuality, intermediality, hypermediality and self-conscious
reflexivity” (Chapple and Kattenbelt 11). It follows from this blurring
of boundaries that performative modes are increasingly present in other
media and genres, and, in view of ubiquitous audio-visual media net-
works probably even more so, that other media and genres are increas-
ingly present in stage performances. Adaptive processes have recently
gained in number and importance and spawned new terms such as
“remediation” (Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin) to account for the
interplay between new digital media and older media (that is, for exam-
ple, theatre). In spite of a few notable exceptions – such as Chapple and
Kattenbelt’s collection – adaptative processes have too infrequently
become the focus of attention in theatre studies. By addressing issues of
adaptation in performance studies, therefore, we fill a gap both in
adaptation studies and in theatre studies.
As a consequence of this increasing performative hybridity our – by
no means complete – list of examples of media and generic transference
does not feature neat, one-to-one transpositions but rather diverse
processes of “multilamination” (Hutcheon 6) and palimpsestuous
layering, as products of a multi-referential and multi-textual web.
Most interestingly, screen-to-stage adaptation has been in vogue in
recent years – arguably at the expense of ‘new’ and ‘original’ playwriting.
Registering the chagrin of playwrights such as Alan Ayckbourn and
Michael Frayn, a recent Independent article wonders at this popularity of
Hollywood productions in the London West End (cf. Johnson) – citing
shows based on movie classics such as the Hitchcock adaptation The 39
Steps and David Lean’s Brief Encounter. The report claims that risk-
cutting, ‘branding’ as well as an emergence of ‘cine-literate’ directors,
can account for the film remake’s conquest of British stages. While
Staging the Palimpsest: Introduction
musical revisions have proved the most prolific adaptation genre in the
past four years, with the re-workings of such films as Dirty Dancing,
Footloose or Billy Elliot, theatre also appropriated other filmic genres,
e.g. comedies (Kinky Boots, Calendar Girls), dramas (All about My
Mother, The Graduate, Rain Man), or anime (Sailor Moon). Dance and
opera adaptations of cinematic productions have also been flourishing:
while Giorgio Battistelli has been commissioned to adapt Al Gore’s An
Inconvenient Truth for the 2011 season at Milan’s La Scala, Matthew
Bourne has offered a successful re-working of Edward Scissorhands.
Theatre has also found a burgeoning source of inspiration in television.
Stage revisions of sitcoms such as ‘Allo ‘Allo, The Addams Family, Dad’s
Army, Hello, Francesca or Happy Days have attracted whole families
and, in particular, male audiences by providing a fresh coagulation of
themes and protagonists (cf. Thorpe).
Literary texts have also been an object of adaptation, with, especially,
the nineteenth-century novel as a persistent source or reference. Stage
revisions of The Mill on the Floss (Helen Edmundson/Shared Experi-
ence), Pride and Prejudice (Helen Jerome, St James’s Theatre, 1936;
First Impressions a 1959 musical version), The Woman in White or
Dracula (e.g. Liz Lochhead 1998), continue to attract audiences by their
combination of familiarity and novelty. Thus, for instance, Bryony
Lavery’s Dracula offers an eclectic intermedia spectacle, embedded in
new technologies of mass communication, and integrating topical mass-
cultural references to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. James Joyce’s Ulysses and
Finnegans Wake have also been dramatized: while the former underwent
a postmodernist appropriation at the hands of Dermot Bolger (A Dublin
Bloom, 1994, Zellerbach Theatre, Pennsylvania), the latter was directed
by Barbara Vann for the Medicine Show Theatre Ensemble in 2005.
Contemporary literature is also a frequent source of stage adaptation
from the 2002 stage version of Jeanette Winterson’s The PowerBook to,
for instance, Lucky You, a dramatization of Carl Hiaasen’s novel, which
premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2008, or Joan Didion’s
The Year of Magical Thinking, which was successfully translated for a
Broadway show by David Hare.
More infrequently, but with particular theoretical allure, adaptations
of the visual arts have also appeared on theatrical stages. Stephen
Monika Pietrzak-Franger and Eckart Voigts-Virchow
Sondheim and James Lapine’s Sunday in the Park with George, 1984, is
an intriguing take on Seurat’s pointillism. Shelagh Stephenson’s works,
such as An Experiment with an Air Pump and Mappa Mundi, find their
inspiration in Joseph Wright’s An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump
and cartographic material respectively, while Edward Bond’s Bingo
stages a fusion of Rembrandt’s drawings. (New) visual technologies
have also been appropriated by performative strategies. From Bill
Talen’s televangelist Reverend Billy to the Billionaires for Bush, political
groups have become renowned for their critical use of the media format,
rhetoric and aesthetics of public campaigning. At the 2006 Edinburgh
Festival Fringe audiences were confronted with an adaptation of Bagh-
dad Burning, an Iraqi woman’s blog, staged by Six Figures Theatre
Company from New York.
Yet another sub-genre of English drama has evolved around the ad-
aptation of historical texts – often in the context of so-called verbatim
plays and the tradition of documentary drama1 – and the staging of
historical events. In this field, the range of themes and contexts is
breathtaking, from the dramatization of the Nuremberg Trials (Richard
Norton-Taylor’s Nuremberg: The War Crimes Trial, 1996; Abby Mann’s
The Judgement at Nuremberg, 2006), to the Palestine conflict (the
editing and staging of the eponymous American activist’s e-mails in My
Name is Rachel Corrie, 2005), post 9/11 issues (Victoria Brittain, Gillian
Slovo, Guantánamo: Honour Bound to Defend Freedom; Robin Soams,
Talking to Terrorists; David Hare, Stuff Happens) or the 1977 television
debate between David Frost and Richard Nixon (Frost/Nixon, recently
adapted from the Donmar Warehouse production for a movie version).
Also, historical personae have been adapted to the stage in the successful
sub-genre of the bio-play, from Howard Brenton’s takes on Percy
Shelley (Bloody Poetry, 1984) or Harold Macmillan (Never So Good,
2008), via Timberlake Wertenbaker’s After Darwin (1988) and Liz
Lochhead’s Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off (1989) to
1 See, for instance, the essays by David Edgar, Roger Lüdeke, Stefani Brusberg-
Kiermeier, Kathleen Starck and Martin Doll in the Anglistentag panel on “The
Documentary Turn,” chaired by Christiane Schlote and Eckart Voigts-Virchow, in:
Klaus Stierstorfer, ed., Anglistentag Münster 2007. Proceedings. Trier: WVT, 2008.
Staging the Palimpsest: Introduction
Michael Frayn’s foray into German politics and the life of Willy Brandt
(Democracy, 2003). More recently, Roger Guenveur Smith’s one man
show about the black activist Huey Newton (first performed at the New
York Shakespeare Festival) was so successful that it was followed by
Spike Lee’s video adaptation of the play. The history of theatre and
performance has also become a subject of a number of adaptations
where intra-theatrical exchanges have offered interesting instances of
generic transpositions, as is the case with musicals Rent (1996) and Miss
Saigon (1989), which were based on operas (La Bohème and Madame
Butterfly respectively).
Despite this ubiquity of adaptations, there has been a certain resis-
tance to studying them as “adaptations,” which is partly related to
implicit reservations against adaptive work, and a bias towards the
problematic idea of originality. The propensity of adaptation to blur
aesthetic categories is another major reason why adaptations were
eschewed by serious criticism (Elliott 133). Robert Stam identifies
further factors behind the prejudice against adaptation, which include
the “valorization of historical anteriority and seniority,” whereby the
adapted text is regarded as superior to its adaptation, as well as “icono-
phobia” and “logophilia,” which establish generic and media hierarchies,
thus maintaining the high/low art divide (Stam 2005 4-6). Animosity
and a feeling of an inherent inferiority of adaptations resulted in a
profoundly moralistic character of adaptation criticism (Stam 3; Cart-
mell, “Introduction” 1), which often took form of subjective,
qualitative interpretations (Stam 4; Cardwell 32). This, in turn, impinged
both upon the “content” and “form” of adaptation studies (Cardwell
32). Additionally, “Academia’s institutional history” very much con-
tributed to the problem of recognizing adaptation studies as a separate
discipline, as Deborah Cartmell and Imelda Whelehan make clear in
their introduction to the first issue of the journal Adaptations in 2008
Prejudice against adaptation has also been reflected in the critical
jargon which has often emphasized the derivative character of adapta-
tion and underlined its dependence and harmful influence on the
original. Terms such as “parasitism,” “violation,” “betrayal,” “vulgariza-
tion” (Cartmell, “Introduction” 2), vampirism (Hutcheon 176) or
Monika Pietrzak-Franger and Eckart Voigts-Virchow
“cannibalization” (Stam 25) have effectively maintained negative conno-
tations, with which adaptation has been associated within orthodox
fidelity criticism. The demand for fidelity still ghosts adaptation studies
(Leitch, “Adaptation Studies” 64), despite countless attempts of con-
temporary theorists to reject it. While some point out the fruitlessness
of classificatory efforts based on the criterion of fidelity (e.g. Leitch,
“Adaptation Studies” 65), Stam decidedly claims the “undesirability,”
and virtual impossibility of literal fidelity in adaptation, due to medium
change (17). According to him, the transposition from a single-track
medium (such as the novel) to a multi-track medium (such as film)
makes fidelity to the original impossible due to “semiotic differences” as
well as technological, commercial and budgetary constraints (17).
Altogether, contemporary criticism endeavours to leave behind the
spectre of fidelity, and take a stance which would enable a more positive
analysis of the processes and products of adaptation.
Recent book and journal publications as well as conferences show
that, as Thomas Leitch asserts in “Adaptation Studies at a Crossroads”,
“[a]fter years of being stuck in the backwaters of the academy, adapta-
tion studies is on the move” (63). In addition to a spate of new journals
(Adaptation, Oxford University Press; Adaptation in Film and Perform-
ance, Intellect), current issues in adaptation studies have brought forth a
number of monographs and collections2 that do away with fidelity
criticism, offer a number of fruitful approaches that overcome the
evaluative skirmishes or typological frenzy of traditional adaptation
2 See, for instance, Thomas Leitch, Film Adaptation and Its Discontents (2007),
Deborah Cartmell and Imelda Whelehan, The Cambridge Companion to Literature
on Screen (2007), Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Adaptation (2006), Kamilla Elliott,
Rethinking the Novel/Film Debate (2006), Mireia Aragay, Books in Motion: Adapta-
tion, Intertextuality, Authorship (2006), Julie Sanders, Adaptation and Appropriation
(2005), Eckart Voigts-Virchow, Janespotting and Beyond. British Heritage Retrovi-
sions since the Mid-1990s (2005), Deborah Cartmell, I.Q. Hunter, and Imelda
Whelehan, Retrovisions: Reinventing the Past in Film and Fiction (2001), Deborah
Cartmell, I.Q. Hunter, Heidi Kaye, and Imelda Whelehan, Classics in Film and
Fiction (2000), Eckart Voigts-Virchow, Dramatized Media/Mediated Drama (2000),
Deborah Cartmell, Adaptations: From Text to Screen, Screen to Text (1999).
Staging the Palimpsest: Introduction
studies3 and, instead, open up new vistas of coming to terms with
generic and media hybridity.
In fact, the spectrum of problems addressed in individual papers col-
lected here goes beyond the question of coherent classification of stage
adaptations. As the contributors to this volume come from a variety of
disciplines and use an assortment of methods, the following section
offers a brief account of chief methodologies in adaptation studies.
In her categorization of contemporary methods used in adaptation
studies, Cardwell distinguishes between medium-specific, comparative
and pluralistic approaches (43). The first set of medium-specific theories
highlights the uniqueness of the intrinsic nature of each medium and the
idiosyncratic modes of expression which it generates (Cardwell 44).
Although this approach does not demand faithfulness to the original but
rather to medium-specific traits, it has proved unsatisfactory for the
exploration of “equivalence’ in adaptation” (Cardwell 73). Nonetheless,
it can be supportive in close textual analysis, which focuses on the
peculiarities of a chosen medium.4
The second, comparative, approach has been judged more adequate
in the study of adaptation, as it offers an effective link between the
concept of adaptation, and the methods used for its analysis (Cardwell
54). Drawing upon narrative and semiotic theories, it considers how
different (media) conventions alter the same narrative and how “non-
transferable aspects” of one medium can be expressed in another
(Cardwell 56). The value of the comparative approach lies in its bringing
together a variety of media and genres, which, despite their individual
traits, are all engaged in telling stories. Its drawbacks, Cardwell and Stam
agree, come from the neglect of the context of adaptation – its socio-
3 Complex typologies of adaptation are legion and, while they ought to be
viewed with critical reservations, they are often useful. Thus, for instance, Kamilla
Elliott has offered a classificatory model rooted in the form/content dyad, distin-
guishing six adaptation concepts – psychic, ventriloquist, genetic, de(re)composing,
incarnational and trumping (133-183).
4 See, for instance, Cardwell’s work on television adaptation as opposed to film
Monika Pietrzak-Franger and Eckart Voigts-Virchow
cultural, historical, institutional, generic, etc. embedding (Cardwell 65-
73; Stam 41).
This contextualization of adapted texts is particularly important for
the pluralist approach of Erica Sheen, Deborah Cartmell, Imelda Whele-
han et. al. Cartmell and Whelehan validate their methodology by
maintaining that “[a] cultural studies approach foregrounds the activities
or reception and consumption, and shelves – forever perhaps – consid-
eration of the aesthetic or cultural worthiness of the object of study”
(Adaptations 18). To the cultural studies approach to adaptation, it is not
only the text/medium that is important but also its socio-cultural,
ideological, and political dependencies. Likewise, contemporary theo-
rists recognize the significance of intertextuality to the discussion of
adaptation. Intertextuality has been a major framework of reference in
the theories of adaptation offered by Robert Stam, Julie Sanders and
Linda Hutcheon, who see it as a way of bypassing traditional valorisa-
tion and aesthetic hierarchies within adaptation studies. Hutcheon’s A
Theory of Adaptation brings together various generic and media exam-
ples which expand the traditional novel/film debate, thus offering a
fertile background for the discussions of, among others, stage adapta-
tions. The appeal of her book is clearly visible in many papers in this
Hutcheon’s dynamic theoretical background (formalist-semiotics,
poststructuralism, intertextuality studies, etc. xii) and thematic orienta-
tion offer a platform for a more comprehensive study of adaptation. She
recognizes the “[d]ouble nature of adaptations” (6), which Thomas
Leitch eloquently summarizes in his review of the book:
Hutcheon defines it [adaptation] alternatively as a creative process and, in paral-
lel with Sanders, as a receptive process whereby adaptations are recognized and
enjoyed as adaptations by audiences who are constantly invited to shift back and
forth between their experience of a new story and their memory of its progeni-
tors. (Leitch, “Adaptation Studies” 74)
This recognition of the “double nature” of adaptation – as process and
product – allows Hutcheon to position it within a specific context, put
it in relation to a gamut of (economic, political, legal etc.) motivations,
and define the modes of audience engagement with it. The three modes
that she introduces – telling (novels, short stories), showing (perform-
Staging the Palimpsest: Introduction
ance media), interacting (videogames, theme parks) (Hutcheon xiv) –
are to varying degrees ‘immersive’ and neither of them is ‘passive’ in the
sense that audiences engage imaginatively, cognitively and emotionally
with the texts – even if the participatory or interacting mode requires a
different kind of physical activity (cf. Hutcheon 22-24).
Each mode of engagement then is related to various kinds and de-
grees of the audience’s interaction with the text as well as to their
different temporal and spatial experiences, not to mention the range of
critical traditions they are exposed to (Hutcheon 128-136). This empha-
sis on the modes of engagement allows Hutcheon to accentuate connec-
tions between a variety of media, to highlight the complexity of what
can be adapted, and to engage with the “what (forms), who (adapters),
why (adapters), how (audiences), when (contexts), and where (contexts)
of adaptation” (xvi).
This pluralistic approach also permits her to define adaptations in
positive terms, with reference to a distinction made by Roland Barthes
between ‘texts’ and ‘works,’ where the former are regarded as chambers
of echoes, filled with citations and references. Impurity becomes an
asset with these rich, “palimpsestuous’ works, haunted at all times by
their adapted texts” (Hutcheon 6). The musical metaphor of ‘stereo-
phony’ that Hutcheon (6) adapts from Barthes, is an example of a
“kinetic vocabulary,” which Sanders calls for in her appeal for a new
critical idiom in adaptation studies (38). She recognizes music and
science as valuable sources of new positive terminology:
[M]usicology has proved a particularly helpful discipline, offering us templates
and paradigms as diverse and suggestive as baroque variation on grounds and the
riffs and improvisational qualities of jazz. Science, too, in particular the theories
of adaptation expounded by Mendel, by Darwin, and by those who have de-
ployed the theories of Crick and Watson, has provided an equally potent refer-
ential point (Sanders 155).
Stam also highlights the positive character of this nomenclature when he
calls adaptation “an orchestration of discourses, talents, and tracks” (9),
and when he re-interprets biological terms which have been used in the
study of adaptation:
[I]f mutation is the means by which the evolutionary process advances, then we
can also see filmic adaptations as “mutations” that help their source novel “sur-
Monika Pietrzak-Franger and Eckart Voigts-Virchow
vive.” Do not adaptations “adapt to” changing environments and changing
tastes, as well as to a new medium, with its distinct industrial demands, commer-
cial pressures, censorship taboos, and aesthetic norms? And are adaptations not a
hybrid form like the orchid, the meeting place of a different “species”? (3)
This kinetic terminology offers another possibility of a positive defini-
tion of adaptation – adaptation as a (process of) interpretation and
creation (Hutcheon 84). Rather than tracing meaning in the author as
controller of validity, Hutcheon (111) emphasizes the liberating aspect
of looking at adaptors as authors as well as readers – vicarious readers
whose adaptations generate a new text specifically located at a point of
intertextual engagement and materialize a moment of reader response
and discursive negotiation. When we ‘read’ an adaptation, we read a text
generated from yet another text by a reader/writer, or ‘wreader.’
The above-cited characterizations of adaptation may seem all-
inclusive. And yet, despite this tendency to treat adaptation as an
umbrella term, attempts have been made to limit the scope of its defini-
tion, and to distinguish it from such concepts as appropriation. Al-
though still very tentative, these differentiations have been taken up in
some of the papers collected here, and thus require a short introduction.
Julie Sanders’s Adaptation and Appropriation (2005) offers the most
comprehensive discussion of the differentiation between adaptation and
appropriation. She regards them both as sub-categories of intertextuality
(17) and sees them as processes of performative, dialogic engagement
with previous texts (4). While adaptation is understood in terms of
transposition, commentary and analogue, appropriation is regarded as
more critical towards and more loosely dependent on the adapted text:
“Appropriation clearly extends far beyond the adaptation of other texts
into new literary creations, assimilating both historical lives and events
[…] and companion art forms […] into the process” (Sanders 148).
Thus, while West Side Story is an adaptation, as it has Shakespeare’s
Romeo and Juliet at its core, it can also be regarded as an appropriation,
since it reconsiders the terms of the adapted text (Sanders 28).
While Sanders’s differentiation is open to debate, there is no doubt
that her work exemplifies the latest trend in adaptation studies – from
the reverence of the original to the joyful and playful engagement with
intertextuality. Her vocabulary, like the terminology used by other key
figures in adaptation criticism, draws upon musicology and science to
Staging the Palimpsest: Introduction
unfold the complex character of adaptation processes. This recognition
of the palimpsestuous character of adaptations, their complex dialogic
nature and their creative engagement with the adapted text is celebrated
in the majority of papers in this collection. Frequently they engage with
multilaminated works that assign their audiences a task of looking back
and forth.
The first section of this book, “Adapting Theatre History: Intratex-
tuality,” brings together papers concerned with stage adaptations of
theatre history. Graham Saunders’s “Under Redevelopment” focuses on
the contextual, temporal transposition of a specific dramatic genre.
Oscillating around such works as Barrie Keeffe’s A Mad World My
Masters (1977), Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money (1987), and David
Eldridge’s Market Boy (2006), it sketches a plethora of possibilities to
re-write Jacobean City Comedy for contemporary British Theatre.
Nicholas Wright’s play Cressida serves Lucia Krämer to unfold general
questions related to intratextuality of this play in particular, and stage
adaptations of theatre history in general. She argues that the play, apart
from its meta-theatricality, addresses theoretical issues crucial to the
practice of adaptation, such as the question of authorship, originality,
fidelity or adaptation ethics. John Bull addresses transla-
tions/adaptations of Brecht’s work in Britain. More specifically, he
traces the many afterlives of Das Leben des Galilei, first written in
1938/39 – afterlives given both by Brecht’s own translation (with
Charles Laughton) and by subsequent British versions of the play. Bull
covers theoretical ground that is also ploughed in the paper by Katja
Krebs and Márta Minier. He argues that Howard Brenton’s, David
Hare’s and David Edgar’s versions of the play work with material that in
itself reflects constant ideological recontextualization on the part of
Bertolt Brecht.
While the first section is concerned with the intratextuality of stage
adaptations, the focus in the next one is on intertextual relations,
attending to theatrical adaptations of literary works. The question
implicit in John Bull’s essay, namely whether the processes of recontex-
tualisation and translation involved in translating and adapting might be
categorized, is more explicitly addressed in the contribution by Katja
Krebs and Márta Minier. Discussing The Blue Room, David Hare’s ‘free’
Monika Pietrzak-Franger and Eckart Voigts-Virchow
adaptation of Schnitzler’s Der Reigen, as well as the stage version of
Jeanette Winterson’s The PowerBook, Krebs and Minier contend that
processes of adaptation and translation may contribute to subvert and
transgress hegemonic and dominant notions of theatre performance. In
“Playing the Novel,” Michael Fry jettisons the accusation of inferiority
leveled at dramatisations of novels, and discusses the challenges of such
generic transference. His practical work on the stage adaptation of The
Great Gatsby offers a platform where he can rethink and redefine an
effective methodology for theatre adaptations of literary works. Rather
than methodological, the concern of Brigitte Bogar and Christopher
Innes is historical in character. With reference to such musicals as Jesus
Christ Superstar, Joseph and the Amazing Technicoloared Dreamcoat and
Godspell, they explore the tendencies in post-war revisions of the Bible
within a specific theatrical genre. Their discussion highlights the signifi-
cance of intertextuality in (critical) response to these works. Intertextu-
ality also becomes the focal point of Davide Maschio’s discussion of
Dermont Bolger’s dramatisation of Joyce’s Ulysses. According to him,
Bolger’s A Dublin Bloom, through its postmodern reassessment of
Joyce’s text, transfers to the stage the major preoccupations of Joyce’s
The following section, “Theatre and Other Media: Intermediality,”
has at its core the dialogic relationship between theatre and other media
as well as their technologies. Visual material and its incorporation in the
works of Tom Stoppard (After Magritte), Shelagh Stephenson (An
Experiment with an Air Pump, Mappa Mundi) and Edward Bond (Bingo)
is the focus of Ewa Kębłowska-Ławniczak’s paper. For her, these
particular re-workings of chosen paintings, maps and drawings testify to
the creative character of adaptive process, which partakes of the aesthet-
ics of recycling, and which results in suspending the power of the
original. Also partly concerned with the critical assessment of the
original by means of its adaptation, Beatrix Hesse’s “From Screen to
Stage” focuses on the intermedial transfer from cinema to theatre. While
providing a general discussion of the appeal and theoretical considera-
tions of this transfer, the paper also offers a detailed discussion of a
complex relationship between Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps and its
stage version, with particular attention to the motif of severed hands and
Staging the Palimpsest: Introduction
its role in the appraisal of the film. The objective of the next paper in
this section goes beyond a simple discussion of the types of generic
transposition. Rather, Pia Wiegmink’s “Performance meets Activism”
inspects the forms of political criticism performed by the activist
network Billionaires for Bush and their creative appropriation of the
rhetoric and formats of political campaigns. Wiegmink scrutinizes in
what ways this use of political campaigns and their media configurations
(blogs, spots, websites) not only criticises electoral campaigns from
within but also modifies political activism and its reception. While
Kębłowska-Ławniczak, Hesse and Wiegmink concentrate on theatrical
adaptations of other media formats, Anja Müller and Mark Schreiber
explore the opposite direction – they analyse what happens when
dramatic texts are staged on the video sharing platform YouTube. Apart
from reconsidering the applicability of the general tenets of adaptation
theory to this special case of adaptation, the authors attempt to delimit
the degree of generic change that such appropriation requires. By using
as the example Samuel Beckett’s oeuvre and its creative, often unauthor-
ized, re-positioning via the user-friendly YouTube interface, they argue
that this new media form can help to rethink the issues of authorship,
reception and authority.
The following section, “Adapting History,” examines the ways in
which historical events, personae or sources are appropriated by the
theatre. Kara McKechnie’s “Gloriana – The Queen’s Two Selves” offers
a glimpse at complex multimedia transfer of historical material. First, it
inspects the appropriation of historical and literary texts in the creation
of the opera Gloriana in 1953; secondly, it unearths formal modifica-
tions and changes in the subject matter which were later implemented in
the process of stage-to-screen adaptation. In view of this ongoing
intertextual and intermedial exchange, McKechnie argues for a novel
take at the analysis of opera as an innate adaptation genre. Sarah Giese’s
inspection of two recent realizations of the Nuremberg Trials raises
fundamental questions relating to the staging of history. These refer to
the adaptability of historical events, to the methodological framework
that such adaptation requires as well as to the issues that are being raised
in adaptations of history. Finally, the recontextualisation of more
distant history is at stake in Julia Boll’s “The Spoils of War,” devoted to
Monika Pietrzak-Franger and Eckart Voigts-Virchow
two modern adaptations of Euripides’ Women of Troy. Women of War.
Boll inspects the changes made to update the play to fit into contempo-
rary context. She also attempts to define factors behind the revival of
the play, its applicability and popularity as a vehicle for the staging of
contemporary wars.
The next chapter of this collection brings together papers which are
focused on the problems of intercultural adaptation. On the basis of
stage translations of Rona Munro’s Iron (Edinburgh 2002, Athens 2003
and Itami, Osaka, 2006), Kathy Smith attempts to find reasons for the
cultural mobility and transferability of the play into various cultural
contexts. In view of audiences’ responses to the theme of
mother/daughter relationship, which is central to the play, she argues
for a possible correlation between a Freudian reading of the play and
spectatorial engagement across cultural borders. Smith’s preoccupation
with the universality of adapted works is contrasted with the issues of
transculturation and indigenization that are explored by the remaining
two papers. Ewald Mengel and Margarete Rubik’s report on the “Cul-
tural Transfer, Translation and Reception of Anglophone Drama on
Viennese Stages in the 20th Century” offers some reflections on the
methodological possibilities in the analysis of adaptation understood as
transculturation. The authors offer a pluralist framework, informed by
the theory of cultural transfer, drama translation and reception theory,
as a way of accounting for the transcultural character of adaptations.
They review several productions of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of
Virginia Woolf? to argue that this play’s decontextualization and domes-
tication are exemplary of a wider trend towards the assimilation of
significantly culture-specific dramatic texts in Vienna. Like Mengel and
Rubik, Albert-Reiner Glaap is interested in a comparison of adaptations
embedded in distinct cultural contexts. His discussion of two versions
of Shakespeare’s King Lear – Richard Rose’s Canadian project Hysterica,
Or To Have To Hold (1990) and Leah, commissioned by the New
Zealand Festival of the Arts in 2000 – encompasses the play’s indigeni-
zation and concentrates on the issues of gender-bending and their
significance in the contemporary revisions of the play.
Appropriately, the final word in this collection is left to the play-
wrights, adaptors and directors themselves. David Eldridge provides a
Staging the Palimpsest: Introduction
fascinating account of the perils and tribulations of adapting the Dogme
movie Festen for the stage – and the ultimate collaborative triumph that
came out of heated arguments. Polly Teale explains how the work of
Shared Experience has relied on established classics, but at the same time
attempts to transcend the limitations of ‘heritage’ adaptations.
It is high time that adaptation studies followed Thomas Leitch’s ad-
vice and left the backwaters of academia – it is equally high time that
theatre and performance studies realized the full significance of adapta-
tion studies to their concerns. A stage adaptation merely lays bare and
brings to the forefront intertextual processes and the inevitable hybrid-
ity that inform all kinds of theatre performance. It is our conviction that
research into stage palimpsests reflects the translational, intertextual,
and intermedial turn in a variety of academic disciplines and we hope
that this volume will provoke further work in this under-researched
intersection of theatre studies and adaptation studies.
Works Cited
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Cartmell, Deborah, and Imelda Whelehan, eds. Adaptations: From Text to
Screen, Screen to Text. London: Routledge, 1999.
––– and Imelda Whelehan, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Literature on
Screen. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007.
–––, Timothy Corrigan, and Imelda Whelehan. “Introduction.” Adaptation
1.1 (2008): 1-4.
Chapple, Freda, and Chiel Kattenbelt, eds. Intermediality in Theatre and
Performance. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2006.
Elliott, Kamilla. Rethinking the Novel/Film Debate. Cambridge: Cambridge
UP, 2003.
Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Adaptation. London: Routledge, 2006.
Johnson, Andrew. “Silver Screen to Wooden Boards: West End Bitten by
Hollywood Bug.” The Independent 5 Oct. 2008. 29 Jan. 2009
Monika Pietrzak-Franger and Eckart Voigts-Virchow
Leitch, Thomas. “Adaptation Studies at a Crossroads.” Adaptations 1.1
(2008): 63-77.
–––. “Adaptation, the Genre.Adaptations 1.2 (2008): 106-120.
–––. Film Adaptation and Its Discontents. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins
UP, 2007.
Logan, Brian. “The tales she could tell you: The playwright Helen Edmund-
son tells Brian Logan how adaptations are the key to theatrical success.”
Times Online 21 Oct. 2006. 29 Jan. 2009
Sanders, Julie. Adaptation and Appropriation. London: Routledge, 2006.
Stam, Robert, ed. Literature and Film: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of
Film Adaptation. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005.
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
From the apparently simple adaptation of a text into film, theatre or a new literary work, to the more complex appropriation of style or meaning, it is arguable that all texts are somehow connected to a network of existing texts and art forms. In this new edition Adaptation and Appropriation explores: multiple definitions and practices of adaptation and appropriation. the cultural and aesthetic politics behind the impulse to adapt the global and local dimensions of adaptation the impact of new digital technologies on ideas of making, originality and customization diverse ways in which contemporary literature, theatre, television and film adapt, revise and reimagine other works of art the impact on adaptation and appropriation of theoretical movements, including structuralism, post-structuralism, postcolonialism, postmodernism, feminism and gender studies the appropriation across time and across cultures of specific canonical texts, by Shakespeare, Dickens, and others, but also of literary archetypes such as myth or fairy tale. Ranging across genres and harnessing concepts from fields as diverse as musicology and the natural sciences, this volume brings clarity to the complex debates around adaptation and appropriation, offering a much-needed resource for those studying literature, film, media or culture.
Renowned literary scholar Linda Hutcheon explores the ubiquity of adaptations in all their various media incarnations and challenges their constant critical denigration. Adaptation, Hutcheon argues, has always been a central mode of the story-telling imagination and deserves to be studied in all its breadth and range as both a process (of creation and reception) and a product unto its own. Persuasive and illuminating, A Theory of Adaptation is a bold rethinking of how adaptation works across all media and genres that may put an end to the age-old question of whether the book was better than the movie, or the opera, or the theme park.
Recent work in adaptation studies has been marked by a tension, often manifested within particular essays and monographs, between remaining within the terms and topics prescribed by literary studies and the articulation and exploration of new questions whose orientation is analytical rather than aesthetic. A good deal of this recent work is limited in scope and impact by its continuing focus on the relation between a given adaptation and a single sourcetext it is assumed to translate more or less faithfully rather than its relations to other texts, the process by which it is established or perceived as an adaptation, or the larger questions it raises about appropriation or intertextuality in general. What makes contemporary adaptation scholarship most exciting, even when it seems mired in comparative evaluation or literary taxonomies, is its capacity for raising the kinds of questions most likely to establish adaptation studies as a disciplinary field of its own.
Adaptation Revisited: TV and the Classic Novel
  • Sarah Cardwell
Cardwell, Sarah. Adaptation Revisited: TV and the Classic Novel. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2002.
Silver Screen to Wooden Boards: West End Bitten by Hollywood Bug The Independent 5
  • Andrew Johnson
Johnson, Andrew. "Silver Screen to Wooden Boards: West End Bitten by Hollywood Bug." The Independent 5 Oct. 2008. 29 Jan. 2009 <http://www.>.
The tales she could tell you: The playwright Helen Edmundson tells Brian Logan how adaptations are the key to theatrical success
  • Brian Logan
Logan, Brian. "The tales she could tell you: The playwright Helen Edmundson tells Brian Logan how adaptations are the key to theatrical success." Times Online 21 Oct. 2006. 29 Jan. 2009 < tol/arts_and_entertainment/whats_on/listings/article603454.ece>.
Literature and Film: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Film Adaptation
  • Robert Stam
Stam, Robert, ed. Literature and Film: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Film Adaptation. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005.