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Richard Whitby I Seminar

Friday 16 November 2021 I 5.30pm [London Time GMT]
The ‘Arena Spectacular’: Ben Hur Live as Post-cinematic Adaptation

Tuesday 16th November 2021, 17:30-19:00 GMT

Stockwell Street Building, 11_3003


Ben Hur Live was a live, arena-based version of the story from Lew Wallace’s novel Ben-Hur (1880), best known via the 1959 film version (dir. William Wyler), that premiered at London’s O2 arena in 2009.  Meant as the start of a world tour, the show was a financial flop and its run cut short with some performers going unpaid. However, I argue that this show was in fact an early example of a small genre of oversized productions – Arena Spectaculars – that brings together live versions of screen material in a specifically post-cinematic way, utilising the space of the indoor arena that has become a common necessary part of the leisure industry in any ‘global city’.


Although seemingly niche, aberrant or even ridiculous, the ‘arena spectacular’ can actually illuminate many things about contemporary consumption of texts in a post-cinematic, networked and franchised economy of images. Since Ben Hur Live’s failure, there have been successful shows such as Batman Live and How to Train Your Dragon Live – their very titles showing their contingent and intertextual nature. As well as tracking the adaptation of the Ben-Hur story, in this new paper, I use DN Rodowick and others to formulate the ‘live’ arena space as an outgrowth of digital cinema, rather than theatre, musical performance or sport, and ideas around the ‘experience economy’ to account for these productions within the tourism-based economies of contemporary cities. Of course, in 2021 we might look at all this as a part of pre-Covid history; with curiosity, nostalgia or disdain, or a bit of each.



Dr Richard Whitby is an artist and researcher, currently teaching at Greenwich, Wimbledon College of Art and London Metropolitan University. He completed his PhD at The London Consortium (Birkbeck College) in 2016. He was a recipient of this year’s Jerwood/FVU commission, with the resulting video ‘The Lost Ones’ showing at Jerwood Arts, London, 2019. He is also an editor of arts website


This event is face-to-face only and open to everyone from the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

If you would like to attend from an external institution, please email 

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