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Discursive embodiment: the theatre as adaptation

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The belief that adaptation is a sideline and a second-rate substitute for originality in the theatre belies its role in the foundation of dramatic performance, evidenced in a variety of cultures. Performance theory has contributed to a belief in the actor as the original essence of theatre-making, but this is inaccurate, since in origin what we have is an astonishing discursive embodiment of pre-existent grand narratives in which characters were embedded. Examples can be found in the ancient Greek theatre and the medieval Christian cycles, and there is a case for saying that the primary fascination in dramatic theatre is for the embodiment of decisive, spoken actions, most emblematically found in Austin's performatives (1962). Granted the significance of adaptation in the history of dramatic theatre, it may be useful to distinguish between primary (from non-theatrical material) and secondary (from an existing play) adaptation. The continuing high profile for adaptation in the history of modern dramatic theatre is abundantly clear from numerous examples, whether in the strand of realism or of Brechtian practice. It is also a major resource of what might be called a contemporary necessary theatre, that of the foundational companies in the United Kingdom that are Asian-led and which together constitute what is known as British Asian theatre.
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Keywords: British Asian; adaptation; discourse; embodiment; performative; translation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Exeter.

Publication date: 2009-12-01

More about this publication?
  • Adaptation, or the conversion of oral, historical or fictional narratives into stage drama has been common practice for centuries. In our own time the processes of cross-generic transformation continue to be extremely important in theatre as well as in the film and other media industries. Adaptation and the related areas of translation and intertextuality continue to have a central place in our culture with a profound resonance across our civilisation.
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