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The Playwright in the French Theatre — A Reply to Keith Gore

  • David Bradby (a1)

Extract

Keith Gore's article ‘The Playwright in an institutionalized theatre’ (TRI, vol. 15, no. 2, Summer 1990) paints a dismal picture of the state of affairs in France at the end of the 1980s. Gore claims that the French playwright is an endangered species, the victim of predatory directors whose uncontrolled lust for power has weakened and impoverished the whole institution. Gore is able to support his claims with an impressive array of statistics and his article must be welcomed for making these available to English readers and for raising what is an important subject for debate. He was greatly helped by the publication, in 1987, of a meticulously researched and far-reaching report on the playwright in the French theatre by Michel Vinaver. Gore's fundamental suspicion of the director finds many echoes among practitioners of French theatre to-day. It has become fashionable to demonize the director and to accuse him (or occasionally her) of stifling new talent. But although the record of French theatre in the decade since the Socialists came to power is, to some extent, disappointing, it is not as bleak as Gore suggests, nor is it helpful to suggest that all its ills can be traced to a single source in the director. The director, too, is a product of the same political and cultural forces that have been at work gradually changing the shape of the theatrical map in France.

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Notes

1. Le Compte Rendu d'Avignon, Aries: Actes Sud, 1987.

2. Gatti had a disappointing experience at the Théâtre de l'Est Parisien in 1968, and Arrabal experienced similar frustrations at the Théâtre National Populaire in 1972. For Gatti, see Bradby, David, Modern French Drama 1940–80, Cambridge: University Press, 1984, p. 161. For Arrabal, see Whitton, David, Stage Directors in Modern France, Manchester: University Press, 1987, p. 204.

3. De la Tradition Théâtrale, Paris: L'Arche, 1955, p. 77.

4. See the recent article on the Nancy festival: Looseley, David, ‘The World Theatre Festival, Nancy, 1963–88: a Critique and a Retrospective’, New Theatre Quarterly, Vol. VI, No. 22, 05 1990, pp. 141–53.

5. See Bradby, David, The Theatre of Roger Planchon, Cambridge: Chadwyck-Healey (Theatre in Focus), 1984.

6. Work by several of these dramatists has been translated into English. Dramacontemporary: France ed. Wehle, Philippa, New York; PAJ Books, 1986, contains Chamber Plays by Vinaver, The Gas Station by Bourdet, Exiles by Cormann, and The Workroom by Grumberg, as well as Vera Baxter by Duras and Over nothing at all by Sarraute. New French Plays ed. Bradby, David and Schumacher, Claude, London: Methuen, 1989, contains Portrait of a woman by Vinaver, Struggle of the Dogs and the Black by Koltès, These Childish Things by Cousse and Stranger in the House by Demarcy.

7. Published in New French Plays, op.cit.

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