17 March 2016
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Both born in 1910 and given the same Christian name, Jean Anouilh and Jean Genet became two of the major figures of twentieth-century French drama before dying within a year of each other in the mid-1980s. The men align again with the simultaneous opening in London of revivals of the plays that first made their reputations.
These breakthrough scripts – Anouilh’s Le Voyageur sans Bagage and Genet’s Les Bonnes – are further linked by both being based on sensational actual cases: of a soldier who came back from the First World War with no memory of who he was, and an employer who was murdered by her maids. But despite the writers being contemporaries, the works were premiered a decade apart, in 1937 and 1947, because Genet’s career as a playwright had been delayed by a period of criminality and imprisonment.
That detail is one reason for the writers’ contrasting artistic sensibilities: Anouilh, in plays such as Antigone and Becket, is classical, literary and religious, whereas Genet is contemporary, savage and blasphemous, with works including The Balcony and The Blacks appalling audiences who were delighted by Anouilh’s histories and comedies.
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