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Icescape theatre: staging the Antarctic

Leane, E (2014) Icescape theatre: staging the Antarctic. Performance Research: A Journal of the Performing Arts, 18 (6). pp. 18-28.

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Abstract

This article offers a tour of theatrical engagements with the Antarctic – as well as a few brief excursions into Antarctic engagements with theatre. The history of the far south on stage is diverse and sometimes surprising, stretching from at least the late eighteenth century to the present day, and involving well-known literary figures such as Vladimir Nabokov, Douglas Stewart and Howard Brenton. Specific performances raise many intriguing questions. What did mid-nineteenth-century explorers of the far southern regions think of a nautical melodrama depicting their expedition, complete with five-foot-high penguins? Why did a group of early explorers wintering in Antarctica choose to perform a farce about convicts? Why was an opera set in the far south declared “degenerate” by the Nazis? What happens when the legend of “Scott of the Antarctic” is transferred to an ice-rink in Bradford?

In answering these and other questions, I hope to contribute to some larger lines of enquiry. With the “spatial turn” in recent criticism, the relationship between theatre, place and landscape has begun to be examined, but the peculiar challenges the Antarctic icescape poses both on page and stage have yet to receive much attention. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when only its berg-strewn perimeter was known, the continent was conceived largely in terms of exotic spectacle. As its interior – a high, lifeless desert of ice – was explored, the famous journeys across its minimalist icescape towards the South Pole (themselves highly performative undertakings) inspired a series of plays dealing with attempts to locate meaning, purpose and identity. Most recently, increased access to the continent for creative artists has seen the production of multi-media performances, in which the ice, no longer imagined as simply a sublime spectacle or a blank white surface to be traversed and conquered, becomes instead a fragile, unstable element, threatened and threatening on a global scale. I trace this evolving history of the far south on stage, paying particular attention to the use of theatre to domesticate the “alien space” of the Antarctic icescape, and conversely to exoticize the familiar space of home.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Antarctica, theatre, Robert Falcon Scott
Journal or Publication Title: Performance Research: A Journal of the Performing Arts
Publisher: Taylor and Francis
Page Range: pp. 18-28
Identification Number - DOI: 10.1080/13528165.2013.908051
Additional Information:

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Date Deposited: 12 Jun 2015 02:00
Last Modified: 12 Jun 2015 02:00
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