Re-/Un-working Tragedy: Perspectives from the Global South

6 December 2019 - 7 December 2019

SG1/2, CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT

Further details about this conference will be made available in the near future. 

Please email if you would like to be kept informed about the event, or have any other questions. 


Lead Convenor

Ekin Bodur (University of Cambridge)


Clare L.E. Foster and the Re- Interdisciplinary Network



Building on ideas explored in the Re- Interdisciplinary Network's CRASSH events, the conference aims to examine ideas of repetition within canonical traditions of tragedy from the perspective of the Global South, in the process raising questions about the problems of those categories as they are changing. We want to scrutinize the literary, political, and philosophical relevance of re-/un-working tragedy in cross-cultural contexts. Taking up the concept of ‘tragedy’ in a world shaken by global conflicts, deterritorialization, and migration crises, the conference asks:

  • How do people in various zones of crisis embrace, interpret and adapt canonical traditions of tragedy to make sense of their suffering and express their resistance?
  • How do authors, playwrights, performers, philosophers, and critics respond to the questions raised by the reworking of tragedies?
  • How does the reworking of tragedies in the Global South transform the idea of the canon and/or decolonise the literary curricula? 

We often employ the prefix ‘re-’, as in ‘re-working’, ‘re-writing’, ‘re-thinking’, ‘re-imagining’, ‘re-appropriating’, ‘re-presenting’ as if to situate the modern work in a historical line, or dialectical movement, of repetitions. The creation of the new cannot but come with reference to the prior. But how does recognisable repetition operate as a unique kind of site for invention, and for speech? Besides, how might we rethink the tragic canon as a destabilizing gesture – an un-working, rather than re-working - through perspectives from the Global South? In reference to ‘unworking’, or désoevrement as a concept that interrupts, suspends, and counteracts the work in the moment of its unfolding, the conference will look for ways to put the authoritative position of the ‘original work’ at stake. Unworking this notion of ‘the original’ reveals the work of tragedy as that which opens itself to reinvention and becomes self-consciously meaningful in the moment of its re-presentation.

The conference will bring together artists and authors who adapt classical tragedies together with academics from various disciplines. The programme will comprise roundtable discussions, panels and creative workshops.




Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) and the Judith E Wilson Fund, Faculty of English.

Day 1 - 6 December





Ekin Bodur (University of Cambridge) and Clare L.E. Foster (CRASSH)


Conversation with Artists: Omar Abusaada (Playwright and Theatre Director) & Mohammad al Attar (Dramaturge, Playwright)

How does tragedy respond to the urgencies of its day? 

How does adapting tragedy bear witness to political conflict?

Omar Abusaada and Mohammad al Attar adapted a trilogy of three Greek tragedies working with three different groups of Syrian displaced women: 'Trojan Women' in Jordan, 'Antigone of Shatila' in Lebanon, 'Iphigenia' in Berlin. Due to limitation for Mohammad’s ability to travel back in 2013, he couldn't join Omar for 'Trojan Women', but they continued with the other two plays. Even though each play is an independent work, the whole trilogy was planned as an ambitious theatrical journey to trace the great exodus of Syrian people and to try to deconstruct the 'Syrian contemporary tragedy' through the eyes and words of Syrian women – who are paying the heaviest price in this ongoing tragedy.


Keynote: Freddie Rokem (Theatre Studies, University of Tel Aviv and Chicago University) “Take up the Bodies!” 

Freddie Rokem is Wigeland Visiting Professor in Theater & Performance Studies at Chicago University and Professor (Emeritus) in the Department of Theatre at Tel Aviv University. He is author of Philosophers and Thespians: Thinking Performance (2010); Performing History: Theatrical Representations of the Past in Contemporary Theatre (2000). He was the editor of Theatre Research International (2006-2009) and was a founding co-editor of the book series Performance Philosophy (2013-2017).

Prof. Rokem will draw attention to the dramaturgical strategies the theatre as an artistic practice has developed for representing death/dying, and how they figure bodies (present, staged, and imagined) - of the dead, the living, and those relating to their difference. He'll raise thematic issues about how dramatic characters like Antigone and Hamlet relate to the dead, how the death of a character upsets the stability of communal life, and how Shakespeare is inviting us to notice the difference between on versus off-stage treatments of these phenomena at the end of Hamlet, when the stage literally becomes crowded with corpses. How might this theatrical history help us understand reworkings of tragedy today to comment on current suffering?


Tea and Coffee


Panel: A Case Study: “Antigones

Chair: Freddie Rokem (Theatre Studies, University of Tel Aviv and Chicago University) 

  • Andrés Henao Castro (University of Massachusetts, Boston) “Antigone and the necrodialectic of enforced disappearances.”
  • Katherine Fleming (English and Drama, Queen Mary University of London)“Antigone, WWII and the battleground of philosophy”
  • Kristina Hagström-Ståhl (Performative Arts, University of Gothenburg) “Un-doing Antigone
  • Ekin Bodur (English, University of Cambridge) “When Antigone embodies collective resistance”





Panel: Re-/Un-working tragedy in times/zones of crisis

 How do people in various zones of crisis embrace, interpret and adapt canonical traditions of tragedy to make sense of their suffering and express their resistance? 

 How might we rethink the adaptations of canonical tragedies as a destabilizing gesture – an un-working, rather than re-working - through perspectives from the Global South?


Chair: Barbara Goff (Classics, University of Reading) 

  • Sola Adeyemi (Theatre and Performance, Goldsmiths University of London) 
  • Ramona Mosse (Freie Universitat, Berlin)
  • Miriam Leonard (Classics, University College London)
  • Tina Chanter (Philosophy, Newcastle University)

Tea and Coffee


Practical Workshop: 

Can a dramatic text or performance ever be universal?

Mark Maughan & Tim Cowbury (Theatre Makers, a Writer-Director Partnership)

The Claim (Oberon, 2018) is a theatre piece written by Tim Cowbury and directed by Mark Maughan that was researched and developed for three years before its first critically acclaimed UK tour in 17/18. It has since played Plaines Plough's Roundabout auditorium as part of the British Council Showcase in Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2019 and is currently booking an international tour for throughout 2020. 

Taking the slippery nature of translation and the Home Office’s interview process for granting asylum as its initial sources of inspiration, we set out to create a piece that was as engaging for those with little to no knowledge or experience of the process as it was for those who have lived experience of this flawed official system. 

We embarked on an integrated and lengthy research and development period, with the support of migrant organisations and asylum seekers and refugees. 

This workshop will cover how Tim came to write a text that is in turns absurd, hilarious and ultimately tragic. It will touch upon the artistic discoveries, challenges and surprises we faced along the way and how those impacted on the final text and production. We will reflect on whether we have managed to create a truly 'universal' piece in the context of The Claim

To conclude the workshop, we will draw upon the work of practitioners adapting canonical tragedies, to extend our thinking on whether we can truly talk about a 'universal' text and what it means to try to adapt, to reach across cultural assumptions and how we come up against the same questions of an audience's capacities to get, understand, reference. We will also touch upon notions of decolonizing text and how the very notion of an assumed 'us' is at play in many theatre texts, which forms part of the problem. 


Dinner (reserve your place via the event registration link)

Day 2 - 7th December


Panel: Deterritorialization / Reterritorialization: Global South Perspectives 

Is there such a thing as a global south perspective? Or perspectives? 

Do they use canonical counter-discourse to decolonize tragedy? 

Do they offer an immediate critique of the western idea of the canon, or do they add pile upon pile on the very same canon?

Chair: Sami Everett (CRASSH, Univeristy of Cambridge)

  • Astrid Van Weyenberg (Film and Literary Studies, Leiden University) 
  • Jane Montgomery Griffiths (Theatre and Performance, Monash University)
  • Anna Frieda Kuhn (Comparative Literature, University of Würzburg) 
  • Eylem Ejder (Theatre Studies, Ankara University)

Tea and Coffee


Roundtable Discussion

The Politics of Adaptation

Is there a unified or trans-historical idea of tragedy? 

Is adapting a Greek tragedy to comment on the political present unfair to the text? 

Chair: Zoe Svendsen (English, Cambridge University, Theatre Director)


  • Rosa Andujar (Liberal Arts and Classics, King’s College London) 
  • Simon Goldhill (Classics, University of Cambridge)
  • Jennifer Wallace (English, University of Cambridge)
  • Chana Morgenstern (English, University of Cambridge)
  • Omar Abusaada (Theatre Director)



Conversation with Artists:

Özlem Daltaban & Murat Daltaban (DOT Theatre Istanbul & Edinburgh)

Özlem and Murat have produced and directed Meet Me at Dawn, a version of Orpheus and Eurydice by Zinnie Harris at the Arcola Theatre, London for this season. Their co-production of Brecht’s “Mrs. Puntila and her Man Matti” is upcoming at Royal Lyceum Theatre and Citizen Theatre in Edinburgh in February 2020.


Final Discussion: 

What are the stakes about generalizing about the Global South? Where is (or isn’t) “the Global South”?

Ankhi Mukherjee (English, Oxford University)

Professor of English and World Literatures at Wadham College, Oxford University and co-editor of the Blackwell Companion to Psychoanalysis, Literature, and Culture; Cambridge University Press’s After Lacan (2018); and the author of What is a Classic? Postcolonial Rewriting and Invention of the Canon (Stanford, 2014).