Fragments, Immersivity, and Reception: Punchdrunk on Aeschylus’ Kabeiroi

Emma K Cole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


A preoccupation with fragmentation has defined many recent responses to antiquity. Within scholarship this focus takes the form of poststructuralist-informed readings, which highlight how any text can be perceived as fragmentary due to the epistemologies that we use to frame our readings. Within artistic practice there is a corresponding privileging of fragmentation through the dismembering of text. Yet one does not need to deconstruct a text, or to point to the gaps in meaning that persist in any textual encounter, to think through fragmentation.

In this essay, I propose that utilising actual fragments within contemporary theatre is not simply an extension in scale of wider practice but represents a qualitatively different endeavour which holds unique benefits. I suggest that fragmentary texts represent fertile material for contemporary immersive performance, as the sense of lack contained within their form provides a productive impetus for an audience’s creation of the unified imaginary world necessary for a ‘deep’ form of immersion. Fragments and immersive theatre make for a unique partnership as the fragmentary source text holds synergy with the form of immersive performance, where a complete or ideal experience remains an ever-elusive ambition. I make my argument through an analysis of Punchdrunk’s 2017 Kabeiroi, which turned the surviving fragments of Aeschylus’ Kabeiroi into a four-to-six-hour immersive experience. I argue that a sense of yearning and incompletion is inevitable in the reception of ancient fragments, but that within immersive experiences this becomes a genuinely productive force. Punchdrunk’s approach, I conclude, should be considered a useful method for other artists and represents a new possible direction for classical performance reception.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)510-525
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of the Classical Tradition
Issue number4
Early online date6 Mar 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Mar 2021

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© 2021, The Author(s).


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  • Punchdrunk on the Classics

    Cole, E. K.


    Project: Research

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