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Making New Worlds from Old: The Translation and Transference of Ancient Mythology into Contemporary Hispanic Theatre (and Beyond)

Making New Worlds from Old

The adoption and adaptation of classical myth is common in present-day UK theatre, where many celebrated playwrights routinely re-imagine stories and characters forged in the distant past. The Greeks, in particular, are seen as an essential part of the contemporary ‘English-language’ theatrical canon, as recent successful productions at the National and Almeida Theatres can attest.

This afternoon and evening event addresses this practice in today’s Hispanic theatrical tradition, examining the manner in which writers from the Spanish-speaking world readapt tales from the Biblical and ancient worlds for their respective audiences. We focus in particular on two recent plays from the theatre of Chile and Spain, in English translation: Juan Radrigán’s The Desolate Prince (El príncipe desolado) and Pedro Víllora’s Electra in the Forest of Oma (Electra en el Bosque de Oma). In the Desolate Prince, Chilean dramatist Juan Radrigán re-versions the Lucifer and Lilith myth in an exploration of theocratic dogma and intransigence. In Electra in the Forest of Oma, Spanish playwright Pedro Víllora blends a contemporary Basque forest with the Classical setting of Argos as Electra stands firm to protect her father’s memory. Our discussions of these two plays will additionally pay critical attention to the practice and challenges of translating them into English. The event will conclude with a rehearsed reading of Electra in the Forest of Oma.


Programme of events:

Afternoon (14:00-18:00), Anatomy Museum, 6th floor, King's BuildingMyth Translated, Translated

A session of interactive panels and discussions, featuring

  • Students from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (RCSSD) and Ben Naylor, course leader of RCSSD MA in Classical Acting, presenting the findings of their earlier work on The Desolate Prince, translated by William Gregory
  • A discussion centred on Víllora’s Electra in the Forest of Oma led by Dr Rosa Andújar (KCL) with playwright Pedro Víllora, Professor Catherine Boyle (KCL), Dr Emma Cole (Bristol), translator William Gregory, and Ben Naylor.
  • An interactive session led by William Gregory in which attendees will be invited to consider the challenges of translating texts old and new for a contemporary audience.  

Evening (19:30), Anatomy Museum, 6th floor, King's Building: Electra in the Forest of Oma

International theatre company [Foreign Affairs] will present a rehearsed reading of Electra in the Forest of Oma by Pedro Víllora, translated by William Gregory and directed by Camila França and Trine Garrett.

With Agamemnon dead and his rival Aegisthus installed beside Clytemnestra on the throne of Argos, all that remains of the former king is the forest of Oma, planted at his birth on the outskirts of the city.  But even this legacy is too much for the new Argive rulers:  a chorus of men is sent to destroy every last tree.  Returning from exile, the former royal advisor Demodocus finds an Argos unrecognisable to the one he left behind, and a plantation of spiritual significance on the verge of disappearance.  But he also finds one woman willing to fight for Agamemnon’s legacy:  grieving for her father, outraged at the new royal match, and longing for the return of her brother Orestes, the brave Electra risks her own life to keep the forest standing.  But chained to a tree, exposed to the elements and to Aegisthus’ fury, and with her mind and body struggling to survive, how long can she hold out?


Oma, sacred forest. Oma,

profaned temple, respected now by no one. Oma,

born with my father

and now about to die…

But Agamemnon is dead too

and no one seems to care.

Father, I know you’re here, in the forest,

which is your grave, among these trees,

which are yours, in some corner of this place,

which once was your home and which will always be

even if Aegisthus’ men tear up the last root

and clear the last trunk.    


‘Making New Worlds from Old’ is presented by King’s College London in association with Language Acts and Worldmaking, Out of the Wings, the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and [Foreign Affairs].

The English translation of The Desolate Prince was made possible thanks to a collaboration between the Chilean Cultural Ministry and the British Council.

 Sign up for this event here