Diverse alarums: centering marginalised communities in the contemporary performance of early modern plays

Lead Research Organisation: University of Roehampton
Department Name: School of Humanities


Perhaps the most frequent stage direction in all early modern drama is 'diverse alarums', which means something like 'Could everyone onstage and backstage please make as much noise as possible?' The disproportionate representation of William Shakespeare in scholarship and performance has aligned early modern drama in the public mind with white, able-bodied, heterosexual, cisgender male narratives, but early modern drama has been calling for diverse alarums all along.

This project challenges this normative trend in 'classical' theatre by mounting a large-scale production of John Lyly's Galatea, an early modern play centered around female, trans, queer, disabled and migrant life stories, and featuring almost no adult cisgender men. In doing so, we seek to bring the play to wide ranging and diverse audiences and experiment with novel ways of foregrounding historical narratives to tell stories that resonate with current socio-political issues. At a time when Shakespeare dominates classical theatre, we seek to permanently reintroduce a forgotten play to the contemporary canon, and thereby challenge the canon's remit in the process.

John Lyly's Galatea is an extraordinarily important early modern English play It offers contemporary performers and audiences an unparalleled affirmative and intersectional demographic, exploring feminist, queer, transgender and migrant lives in a cast of characters that includes very few cisgender adult males, and it builds towards the celebration of a queer and trans marriage. Yet the play has almost no stage history since 1588, and is only starting to be better known amongst academics and students. Diverse Alarums will transform this state of affairs with a unique combination of methods, ranging across early modern studies, practice-as-research, audience studies, qualitative research, trans, queer and disability studies.

The project comes out of several years of collaboration and grant-capture between the project Principal Investigator, Andy Kesson (Roehampton), and the theatremaker Emma Frankland, which has demonstrated the viability of our work to shift debates around equity and inclusion in both classical and contemporary theatre. It will be staged in collaboration with Marlborough Productions, WildWorks and Brighton Festival, with the PI working with Co-Investigator, Sandra Nelson (Sussex), and the Post-Doctoral Research Assistant as creative partners for the production and lead researchers for the project.


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