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Memory and Performance: Classical Reception in Early Modern Festivals

Giovanna Di Martino writes about a theatre workshop which received funding under the ICS public engagement grants scheme

On 20-23 February 2023, the ICS supported a four-day theatre workshop led by Italian playwright and director Marco Martinelli (Teatro delle Albe) and by academic and dramaturg Giovanna Di Martino (UCL) on Aristophanes’ Wealth in three early modern translations of the play: Eufrosino Bonini’s 1513 Commedia di Justitia; Thomas Randolph’s 1651 Hey for honesty, down with knavery; and H. H. B. (H. H. Burnell?)’s 1659 The World’s Idol, Plutus a comedy. Workshop participants were from UCL, the University of Parma, UPenn, and a number of state schools in London (St Olave’s Grammar School, from the Jewish Community Secondary School, and from La Sainte Union, Camden). A demonstration-performance of the theatre workshop took place in St George's Church Bloomsbury, Bloomsbury Way, London, as part of the conference Memory and Performance: Classical Reception in Early Modern Festivals, co-organised by Francesca Bortoletti (Parma) and Giovanna Di Martino. In addition to the ICS’s generous contribution, the workshop was also funded by the Widening International Didactics and Education Programme (w.i.d.e; 2022, Parma), the Classical Association, the Gilbert Trust Fund, UCL Institute of Advanced Studies, and the Leventis Foundation.

In the words of some of the school students participating, the theatrical approach to learning, studying and researching Aristophanes’ Wealth and its early modern translations was a ‘great way to fully immerse myself in the play and become more aware of how elements and lines of a script translate into a performance’; another one added: ‘it made the play more exciting and vivid for me as an experience rather than a quiet visualisation which I had built up in my head’. For some, the workshop was also a first-time encounter with theatre; a student reported how they discovered that theatre doesn’t have linguistic barriers: ‘although we spoke a different language [workshops participants were from Italy and the UK, but the languages spoken by some of the participants also included Polish, French and Portuguese], within the performance it seemed like we all spoke the same language, one of passion and theatre’. In the words of another, being involved in the theatrical process made them realise ‘how a play can change based on the people performing in it and the people interpreting it’.

Overall, the workshop was a success: the theatrical approach to the texts used as well as the feedback sessions on the historical contexts of these scripts successfully brought to the fore the incredible performability of these scripts and the timeliness of some of the issues emphasised particularly in World’s Idol, a reading of Wealth that heavily criticises British and Spanish colonialism while also arguing against the use of religion as a weapon.

Theatre workshop image 1
Theatre workshop image 2

Photos taken by Alessandro Bartolomucci at the demonstration-performance on 23 February 2023, in St George's Church Bloomsbury, Bloomsbury Way, London WC1A 2SA.


Director: Marco Martinelli, Teatro delle Albe; Dramaturg: Giovanna Di Martino

Participants  Franklin Barron, Zoë Barros, Rosanna Beacock, Janina Corbet, Laura Cupellaro, Flora Grime, Indie Halstead, Josh Hobson, Emily Kerr, Sophie Kerr, Benedetto Loris Pizzo, Luna Malvaso, Aurora Monachesi, Zoë Perry Smith, Anna Rizzo, Lucy Ruddiman, Marta Szatkowska, Agnes Wilhelmsen.