Carry On Screaming

Antonin_Artaud_jeune_b_SD-1I have a couple of things to share this weekend, both of which are little gems. Firstly, courtesy of Open Culture, a recording of a never-aired radio play, written and performed Antonin Artuad To Have Done With The Judgment of God.  As any good student of theatre knows, when it comes to Artaud and his theories, tangibility is an issue, so to have this recording of his work is a rarity to be savoured. Generally speaking, his ideas about theatre were more popular than his actual productions. Perhaps his most famous play, Les Cenci, was staged in 1935 and tells the story of a father who rapes his daughter and then gets brutally killed by his daughter’s hired thugs. The play was a flop, running for only 17 performances and was generally considered not to be very good. Pour en Finir avec le Jugement de dieu (to give the To Have Done With The Judgment of God its original french title) proved to be equally unpopular. Commissioned by Ferdinand Pouey, head of the dramatic and literary broadcasts for French Radio in 1947, the work was written by Artaud after he spent the better part of WWII interned in an asylum where he endured the worst of his treatment.

The piece is as raw and emotionally naked as you might expect –an anguished rant against society. A raving screed filled with scatological imagery, screams, nonsense words, anti-American invectives and anti-Catholic pronouncements.

Give it a listen and you will what I mean:

The piece was programmed to go on air on January 2, 1948 but the station director Vladimir Porché pulled it at the last moment. It was said, apparently, that he wasn’t terribly fond of the copious references to poop and semen or the anti-American vitriol. Parisian intellectuals including Jean Cocteau protested the decision, with Pouey resigning from his job in protest, but to no avail. It never aired. Artaud, who reportedly took the rejection very personally, died a month later. You can listen to the broadcast above. And, in case your French isn’t up to it, you can still appreciate its theatrical elements,  while reading an English translation of the radio script here.  It is a fascinating (albeit difficult) listen and really does give you a sense of what Artuad was getting at with the Theatre of Cruelty. There is an english audio version on Youtube, but it doesn’t touch the original recording. There is also a somewhat dated recording of a staged version of the piece, performed by Billy Barnum and John Voigt:

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The website that has the english translation of To Have Done With The Judgment of God is a good little find too. Surrealism-Plays is a mine of information about surrealism and avant-garde theatre.

Thanks must go to my good friends and colleges, Sherri Sutton (International School of Geneva) and Kerry Rochester (WIS, Hong Kong) for bringing the Open Culture post to my attention. Drama teachers of the world unite!

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