The Screens – Jean Genet (1961)

The Screens (French: Les Paravents) is a play by the French dramatist Jean Genet. Its first few productions all used abridged versions, beginning with its world premiere under Hans Lietzau‘s direction in Berlin in May 1961. Its first complete performance was staged in Stockholm in 1964, two years before Roger Blin directed its French premiere in Paris. Genet was writing the piece as a war of independence was being conducted in French colonial Algeria. The work has no narrative structure, but comprises a series of 17 individual scenes depicting Arab insurrection against a stupid and blundering colonial power. Although the occupying army is not identified as specifically French (nor is the action intended to depict only the then-current insurgence—the French conquest of Algeria in the 1840s is also referenced), when the play was first performed in France, at the eminent Odéon theatre, Paris, in 1966 it was seen as a provocative insult to national prestige and caused serious protest demonstrations. The ‘screens’ of the title are metaphors: in one sense, for example, they stand for on-screen television news reports filtering the realities of war, both political and physical. But they are also real stage properties, mounted on rubber wheels and manipulated, as part of the action, by a visible stagehand. Genet began writing the play in 1955 and continued to develop it over the following few years, completing a first version in June 1958. He re-wrote the play further while in Greece towards the end of 1959. … In 1964 in London, Peter Brook staged two-thirds of the play (its first twelve scenes, in a performance that lasted for two-and-a-half hours) at the Donmar Rehearsal Rooms as part of his experimental ‘Theatre of Cruelty‘ season with the Royal Shakespeare Company; he abandoned plans to stage the complete text, partly due to dissatisfaction with Bernard Frechtman’s translation. …”

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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