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Absence, Presence, Indexicality: The Mise en Scène of ‘the Heart of Neolithic Orkney’


I sketch those characteristics of the mise en scène at the Ring of Brodgar stone circle and associated sites that might solicit within the visitor something like a dynamic performance. Drawing on surrealism, Robert Smithson and archaeology, I argue that the mise en scène at Brodgar – and the visitor's response to it – is characterized by a sense of presence which exists in a dialectical tension with the perception of that which is absent. Brodgar is indexical (like a photograph) and hauntological, in semiotic terms. The Neolithic site is, at some level, unknowable. The visitor becomes aware of coincident yet incompatible manifestations of time and space (heterochronia) and imagines the potential return of unknown, cryptic ritual performances (metatheatre). This solicits within the viewer something akin to Max Ernst's model of frottage. As Breton put it, ‘The imaginary . . . tends to become real’.

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Mike Pearson and Julian Thomas , ‘Theatre/Archaeology’, TDR, 38, 4 (Winter 1994), pp. 133–61, here p. 142

Pierre Nora , ‘Between Memory and History: Les lieux de mémoire ’, Representations, 26 (Spring 1989), pp. 724

Jonathan W. Marshall , Performing Neurology: The Dramaturgy of Dr Jean-Martin Charcot (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016)

Colin Richards , ‘Monuments as Landscape’, World Archaeology, 28, 2 (October 1996), pp. 190208, here p. 197

Rosalind Krauss , ‘Notes on the Index’, October, 3 (Spring 1977), pp. 6881

Jonathan W. Marshall , ‘“The World of the Neurological Pavilion”: Hauntology and European Modernism “mal tourné”’, TDR, 57, 4 (Winter 2013), pp. 6085

Gay McAuley , ‘Place in the Performance Experience’, Modern Drama, 46, 4 (Winter 2003), pp. 598613, here p. 602

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Theatre Research International
  • ISSN: 0307-8833
  • EISSN: 1474-0672
  • URL: /core/journals/theatre-research-international
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