‘Hear the Bones Sing’: Postcolonial Ghost Plays

A talk by Clare Finburgh-Delijani

The first of three events in the CCL’s Postcolonial Theatre series, May 2022

Thursday 5 May, 6PM BST (online)

George Romney, The Ghost of Darius Appearing to Atossa (1778), Walker Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool

What can ghosts teach us about how to live together in postcolonial societies such as the UK or France?

‘[O]ne of my tasks as a playwright is to […] locate the ancestral burial ground, dig for bones, find bones, hear the bones sing, write it down’, explains African American playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (2014).

My paper examines how a range of playwrights on both sides of the Atlantic are evoking colonial pasts, and their impact on the present, via ghosts. The performance artist Selina Thompson says about her show salt. (2018), where she explores being haunted by the fact that she is descended from enslaved people: ‘I’m just gonna really sit with all of this pain, all of this trauma, all of this intergenerational baggage, I’m really gonna sit with its global impact, its temporal impact and I’m gonna stay there for a bit.’ (2017).

In Cameroonian-born Léonora Miano’s play, Révélation, staged at the Théâtre de la Colline in Paris in 2018, the afterlife is troubled by Unbuntu, ‘sorrowful souls’. In both salt. and Révélationthe seascape of the Middle Passage becomes a site of memory, where submerged colonial histories resurface, and anti-colonial struggles resist the colonial project. Finally, Guadeloupian performance artist Stéphanie Melyon-Reinette’s Kepone Dust (2020) brings colonial ghosts into dialogue with their legacy of environmental damage today.

Revenants across these plays return to demand repair for injustices perpetrated in the past. At the same time, spectres create a doubling, the indeterminacy of which troubles monocultural notions of national identity, instead proposing postcolonial societies as a multi-ethnic and multidenominational.

Attendance is free but booking will be essential to receive a link to attend. BOOKING IS NOW CLOSED

Watch a video of the seminar


The participants:

Professor Clare Finburgh Delijani, Deputy Director of the CCL, is a researcher and teacher in the Department of Theatre and Performance at Goldsmiths University of London. She has written and edited many books and articles on theatre from France, the French-speaking world and the UK, including a special issue of Théâtre/Public on the Situationist International (2019), The Great Stage Directors: Littlewood, Planchon, Strehler (2018, with Peter Boenisch), Watching War on the Twenty-First-Century Stage: Spectacles of Conflict (2017), Rethinking the Theatre of the Absurd: Ecology, the Environment and the Greening of the Modern Stage (2015, with Carl Lavery) and Jean Genet (2012, with David Bradby). She is currently writing a book on theatre in France that addresses the nation’s colonial past, and multi-ethnic present.


Clare’s talk will be chaired by Dr. Mairi Neeves, Lecturer in Postcolonial Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London. Mairi’s work includes We are all Rwandans (as production manager; 2008), winner of Best World Cinema Short, Phoenix International Film Festival 2008; the documentary on Apartheid in Israel/Palestine Hidden From View (as co-director/producer; 2007);and the feature length documentary on extreme global poverty 58 – The Film (as writer, assistant director/producer; 2011).