Performing the Unstageable: Success, Imagination, Failure

Research output: Book/ReportBook


From gouged-out eyes in Shakespeare’s King Lear to sunflowers growing up through the stage in Sarah Kane’s Cleansed, the theatre has long been intrigued by the staging of seemingly unstageable texts, images and ideas, and continues to exist as a space dedicated to the offer of the impossible. Performing the Unstageable: Success, Imagination, Failure traces the hinterland between impossibility and creativity, between a playtext’s demands and a theatre’s capacities, between knowing that something is impossible and doing it anyway.

The book explores four principal focal points of unstageability: stage directions, adaptations, violence and ghosts. Karen Quigley invokes a wide range of case studies of historical and contemporary theatre productions including the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, the Wooster Group’s exploration of Hamlet via the structural frame of John Gielgud’s 1964 filmed production, Dead Centre’s voyage through Chekhov’s Platonov and a selection of impossible stage directions drawn from plays by Caryl Churchill, Martin McDonagh, Alistair McDowall and Sarah Ruhl.

Placing theatre history and performance analysis in such a context, Performing the Unstageable works against the easy assumption that everything is possible for the theatre, and tells a parallel story of impossibility, generative resistance, creative thinking and hope. What does it mean that we keep trying to do what we can’t?
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon and New York
PublisherBloomsbury Publishing
Number of pages272
ISBN (Electronic)9781350055469
ISBN (Print)9781350055452
Publication statusPublished - 18 Feb 2020

Publication series

NameMethuen Drama Engage
PublisherMethuen Drama, Bloomsbury Publishing


  • unstageable
  • impossible theatre
  • contemporary performance
  • adaptation
  • stage directions
  • blood on stage
  • violence on stage
  • ghosts

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