CCL’s Postcolonial Theatre series continues with Reimagining the Victorian Past in African and in Black Diasporic Theatre – a free online presentation

On Thursday 19th May from 6.00pm- 7.30pm BST, the Centre for Comparative Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London presents “Reimagining the Victorian Past in African and in Black Diasporic Theatre”, a talk by Tiziana Morosetti

This is the second of three events in the CCL Postcolonial Theatre series running through May.

Dr Morosetti introduces her talk here: “Several African American and Black British playwrights have engaged in the past 25 years with material from the Victorian past. If issues of slavery and segregation have been at the forefront, aligning theatre to neo-Victorian and neo-Slavery narratives, Black playwrights have also engaged with specific figures from the long 19th century, from Suzan-Lori Parks’s Venus (1996), which first brought on the contemporary stage the story of Sarah Baartman (or the ‘Hottentot Venus’), to Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s An Octoroon (2014), which rewrites Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon (1859) while also addressing (quite literally) the presence and relevance of Boucicault on the British stage.

In my paper, I will consider as part of this emerging corpus two recent Black British plays that specifically engage with the Victorian past: Winsome Pinnock’s Rockets and Blue Lights (2018), and Janice Okoh’s The Gift (2019), which engage, respectively, with the painter William Turner (1775-1851) and with Sara Forbes Bonetta (1843-1880), goddaughter of Queen Victoria and formerly an enslaved child in the Kingdom of Dahomey. In discussing ways in which the Victorian past becomes an essential reference point in addressing questions of identity, (neo)colonialism, and racism today, I will compare these plays to two Nigerian examples that display similar engagement: Ola Rotimi’s Ovonramwen Nogbaisi (1974), which reflects on colonialism through the portrait of the Oba of Benin (1857-1914) and the British Expedition of 1897; and Femi Osofisan’s Ajayi Crowther (2002), which celebrates the figure of the Nigerian linguist and clergyman (1809-91).

I will argue these examples, while displaying a closer focus on African history and overall different aesthetics, complement the vision of Black British playwrights by commenting on, and proposing counter-narratives to, the relation between Black cultures and white British power during the reign of Victoria.”

The participants:

Dr Tiziana Morosetti is an Associate Lecturer in Theatre and Performance at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is also an affiliate to the African Studies Centre, Oxford. She works on representations of race, Blackness and diversity on the 19th-century and contemporary British stage; and on Black drama, especially African. She is the editor of Staging the Other in Nineteenth-century British Drama (Peter Lang 2016), Africa on the Contemporary London Stage (Palgrave 2018) and, with Osita Okagbue, The Palgrave Handbook of Theatre and Race (2021). She is the General Secretary of the African Theatre Association UK (AfTA) and the co-founder and deputy director of the journal Quaderni del ’900.

Dr Morosetti’s talk will be chaired by Lynette Goddard, Professor of Black Theatre and Performance at Royal Holloway, University of London. Their research focuses on documenting and analysing the contemporary histories of contemporary Black British theatre by looking at the politics of representation and the careers of performers, playwrights and directors. As well as numerous articles and chapters, they have published two full-length monographs Staging Black Feminisms: Identity, Politics, Performance (Palgrave, 2007) and Contemporary Black British Playwrights: Margins to Mainstream (Palgrave, 2015), one shorter book, Errol John’s Moon on a Rainbow Shawl (Routledge, 2017), and co-edited Modern and Contemporary Black British Drama (Palgrave, 2014). They selected and introduced the plays for The Methuen Drama Book of Plays by Black British Writers (2011) and wrote introductions for Mojisola Adebayo Plays One (Oberon, 2011) and Mojisola Adebayo Plays Two (Oberon, 2019). They are currently co-editing the anthology Black British Queer Plays and Practitioners (Methuen) and the two-volume Routledge History of Contemporary British Theatre.

For more information, and to reserve your space for this free online talk, click here


CCL’s Postcolonial Theatre series begins with Hear the Bones Sing – a free online presentation

On Thursday 5th May from 6.00pm- 7.30pm BST, the Centre for Comparative Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London presents “Hear the Bones Sing”: Postcolonial Ghost Plays’. A Talk by Clare Finburgh-Delijani

This is the first of three events in the CCL Postcolonial Theatre series running through May.

What can ghosts teach us about how to live together in postcolonial societies such as the UK or France?

‘[O]ne of my tasks as a playwright is to […] locate the ancestral burial ground, dig for bones, find bones, hear the bones sing, write it down’, explains African American playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (2014).

Clare Finburgh-Delijani’s paper examines how a range of playwrights on both sides of the Atlantic are evoking colonial pasts, and their impact on the present, via ghosts. The performance artist Selina Thompson says about her show salt. (2018), where she explores being haunted by the fact that she is descended from enslaved people: ‘I’m just gonna really sit with all of this pain, all of this trauma, all of this intergenerational baggage, I’m really gonna sit with its global impact, its temporal impact and I’m gonna stay there for a bit.’ (2017).

In Alexandra Badea’s Points de non-retour : Quai de Seine (2019), the central character has recurring nightmares in which the unburied of the Paris massacre of Algerian protesters in October 1961, drift along the River Seine, frozen in blocks of ice. This presentation will illustrate how ghosts ‘haunt’ contemporary theatre with reminders that, in the words of African-American studies specialist Saidiya Hartman, the colonial past has not passed; that, to borrow from fellow African American scholar Christina Sharpe, ‘the calculus of dehumaning started long ago [is] still operative’.

Revenants in these plays return to demand repair for injustices perpetrated in the past. At the same time, spectres create a doubling, the indeterminacy of which troubles monocultural notions of national identity, instead proposing postcolonial societies as a multi-ethnic and multidenominational.

Professor Clare Finburgh Delijani, Deputy Director of the CCL, is a researcher and teacher in the Department of Theatre and Performance at Goldsmiths University of London. She has written and edited many books and articles on theatre from France, the French-speaking world and the UK, including a special issue of Théâtre/Public on the Situationist International (2019), The Great Stage Directors: Littlewood, Planchon, Strehler (2018, with Peter Boenisch), Watching War on the Twenty-First-Century Stage: Spectacles of Conflict (2017), Rethinking the Theatre of the Absurd: Ecology, the Environment and the Greening of the Modern Stage (2015, with Carl Lavery) and Jean Genet (2012, with David Bradby). She is currently writing a book on theatre in France that addresses the nation’s colonial past, and multi-ethnic present.

Clare’s talk will be chaired by Dr. Mairi Neeves, Lecturer in Postcolonial Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London. Mairi’s work includes We are all Rwandans (as production manager; 2008), winner of Best World Cinema Short, Phoenix International Film Festival 2008; the documentary on Apartheid in Israel/Palestine Hidden From View (as co-director/producer; 2007);and the feature length documentary on extreme global poverty 58 – The Film (as writer, assistant director/producer; 2011).

Find out more and reserve your free online place by clicking here