Performing the Feminisms of Euripides' The Bacchae in Britain

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This thesis makes a vital intervention in current performance histories of Euripides’ The Bacchae. By charting various twentieth and twenty-first century receptions of the play led by and centred on women, I account for underexplored parts of the play’s journey through modern Britain. I document some performances for the first time and reappraise others that have received comparatively little attention in scholarship; as such, I make an original contribution to knowledge that enriches understanding of how theatre-makers have turned to Greek tragedy to speak to their lives and historical moments. I demonstrate that through their theatrical encounters with The Bacchae, successive generations of women theatre-makers have embodied, promoted, and critiqued the feminisms of their day. The thesis is therefore as much a history of women using theatre to negotiate the androcentric culture of the past and pro-women politics of the present as it is of Euripides’ play.

I explore a range of case studies across four chapters. Chapter 1 returns to The Bacchae mounted in 1908 by Lillah McCarthy, making the case for her significance in this production. The next chapter explores two adaptations, Rites (1968) and A Mouthful of Birds (1986), drawing attention to how the theatre-makers used images and motifs from Euripides’ play to respond to developments in second wave feminism. Chapter 3 explores various women-centric approaches in the context of twenty-first century ‘postfeminism’, examining productions by Kneehigh Theatre Company (2004-2005), Northampton Royal & Derngate (2012), and the Almeida Theatre (2015). The last chapter turns to my own recent encounters with The Bacchae as a theatre-maker: two adaptations from By Jove Theatre Company (2014-2015 and 2017), and a production by Lazarus Theatre Company (2016). Finally, I conclude by considering the potential of the maenad, a key figure across the case studies, for carrying forward my findings: an approach to the reception of Greek tragedy that coheres around the relationship between ancient representations of women and the modern women who have reclaimed them through performance, what I have termed 'maenadic poetics'.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Drama, Theatre and Dance
  • Schafer, Elizabeth, Supervisor
  • Rankin, Deana, Advisor
Award date10 Sept 2019
Publication statusUnpublished - 2019

Cite this