Kathleen Riley


Kathleen Riley Biography

(Photo by Jean Riley)

KATHLEEN RILEY is an independent scholar and writer.

Born in Sydney, Australia, she received first-class honours in Latin and the University Convocation Medal from the University of Sydney and a Master of Studies (M.St.) and Doctor of Philosophy (D.Phil.) in Classics from the University of Oxford. From 2006 to 2009 she held a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship in Classics at Oxford and a Junior Research Fellowship at Corpus Christi College.

Kathleen’s first book, published in 2004 by University of Hertfordshire Press, was the authorized biography Nigel Hawthorne on Stage, which Duncan Wu described as ‘in effect, a survey of postwar theatre in Britain and South Africa … an invaluable volume … to any serious student of postwar British drama, especially those who wish to become actors themselves’ (Times Higher Education, 18 June 2004).

Her D.Phil. thesis was selected for publication in the prestigious Oxford Classical Monographs series and substantially revised and expanded under the title The Reception and Performance of Euripides’ Herakles: Reasoning Madness (OUP, 2008). Emma Stafford said of it: ‘This substantial study ably demonstrates the value of classical reception studies both as a “culturally revealing” tool, shedding light on the various milieux concerned, and in inspiring a re-evaluation of the original material. … The study is relevant to anyone with an interest in Euripides or Seneca, the staging of classical drama, the reception of Greek myth, the history of ideas about madness, modern debates about masculinity, and the nature of the hero. In short, it should be read by a wide audience’ (Classical Review 62.1).

Kathleen’s third book, The Astaires: Fred & Adele (OUP US, 2012), was the first comprehensive study of the stage career of Fred Astaire and his sister Adele and its importance in the history of musical theatre and in the cultural life of the interwar period. The New York Journal of Books described it as ‘a page-turner of a biography, briskly written and immaculately researched’, while the Times Literary Supplement said: ‘Riley has brought to her account of this legendary team the heart of a fan and the mind of a scholar (her background is in Classics). Her writing is engaging and self-effacing – rather like Astaire’s dancing. Reading her book is to get as close as the imagination can take us to the original duo that stands behind the many delightful partnerships that Fred Astaire had on screen.’ The book was included in the Wall Street Journal’s Best Non-Fiction of 2012 and Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post’s Best Books of the Year, 2012 and has been optioned for a UK feature film which is currently in development.

Kathleen edited Edward Petherbridge’s autobiographical book of essays and poetry, Slim Chances and Unscheduled Appearances (Indepenpress, 2011) as well as a special edition, entitled Slim Chances – NT50: Personal, Partial, Unofficial (Indepenpress, 2013).

A true interdisciplinarian, she is the author of numerous chapters and journal articles on a wide range of topics relating to ancient and modern theatre, literature, dance, Modernism, and the history of ideas. A specialist in the reception of ancient drama, she is a contributor to the first ever Encyclopedia of Greek Tragedy, published by Wiley-Blackwell in 2013. She also reviews plays and books on dance for the TLS.

Kathleen was the creator and director of the first international conference on the artistry and legacy of Fred Astaire (‘Fred Astaire and the Art of Fun’, TLS, 16 July 2008 [link]), which was held at Oriel College, Oxford in June 2008, with Ava Astaire McKenzie (Astaire’s daughter) as special guest. (Read Kathleen’s opening remarks [link]) She also helped to organize ‘Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers: A London Celebration’ at the V&A in September 2015.

She worked as Script Consultant on My Perfect Mind, a Told by an Idiot, Young Vic and Theatre Royal Plymouth co-production, which had its world premiere on 14 February 2013, directed by Kathryn Hunter and featuring Edward Petherbridge and Paul Hunter. The show enjoyed two seasons at London’s Young Vic, toured to Barcelona and was part of the 2015 Brits off Broadway Festival in New York.

Most recently, Kathleen was lead editor on a volume of essays, Oscar Wilde and Classical Antiquity, which was published by Oxford University Press in November 2017.

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