Absurd, Theatre of the


Blinded by the Light

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Blinded by the Light is a manic black comedy, a madcap farce of drinking, smoking, Mormons, Catholics, transvestites and a saint all crammed into the tiny bedsit of the hapless Mick.

Mick’s priorities in life are finding new ways to call in sick for work, getting hold of some roach paper, and seeing Siobhan again: he needs nothing else to make him happy. But in a moment of idleness he lets a couple of evangelical Mormons into his bedsit; they are so delighted to have found a friendly ear, it seems unlikely they’ll ever leave. Despite Mick’s increasingly desperate attempts to shock them out of all hope of converting him, soon they are visiting three times a week – prompting his landlord to invite over Lily and Jack from the Legion of Mary, to bring him back into the Catholic fold. Mick can just about juggle his schedule of visiting evangelicals, until the moment that the petty criminals from upstairs present him with the preserved head of Saint Oliver Plunkett.

Bolger’s increasingly surreal comedy is a triumph of riotous humour and sharp observation. It was first produced in 1990 by the Abbey Theatre, Dublin.

The Crocodile

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Tom Basden's The Crocodile is a satirical play based on an 1865 short story of the same name by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The play is about a struggling actor (a civil servant in Dostoyevsky's story) who begins to receive the recognition he feels he deserves only after being swallowed whole by a crocodile at the zoo. It was commissioned by Manchester International Festival and first performed as part of the Festival, in a co-production with The Invisible Dot, on 13 July 2015 at the Pavilion Theatre, Manchester.

The play is set in a zoo in St Petersburg in 1865. Ivan Matveich, a jobbing actor in his thirties, is visiting the zoo one afternoon with his best friend, Zack, who attempts to persuade Ivan to abandon the stage for some more worthwhile pursuit. When Ivan is swallowed whole by a crocodile, he at first cries out (from inside the crocodile) for someone to slice the beast open and rescue him... but, when he discovers that his new situation brings him instant celebrity, he comes to see it as smart career move, and sets out to exploit it to the full.

The Manchester International Festival premiere was directed by Ned Bennett and designed by Fly Davis, with Simon Bird as Zack, Ciarán Owens as Ivan, Emma Sidi as Anya and Marek Larwood as Mr Popov etc.

The Elephant Calf: An interlude for the foyer

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Originally written as part of Mann ist Mann (Man Equals Man), The Elephant Calf was later removed and redrawn as a play in its own right, to be performed as an interlude in the foyer during performances of the former play.

The Elephant Calf sees Galy Gay – the protagonist of Man Equals Man – undergo a trial for the murder of his mother (who, in a surreal turn of events, is in rude health on the stage, and even called as a witness). The play’s farcical denouement is critiqued by ‘audience members’ – in fact, part of the cast – who storm the stage and insist on having their money back, with the threat of menaces to come if the cast don’t accede.

Sometimes subtitled ‘You Can Prove Anything’, this version of The Elephant Calf was translated by John Willett, and was first published in 1979.

Gladly Otherwise

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

N. F. Simpson led the twentieth-century British absurdist movement. Gladly Otherwise is an early sketch of his, first performed as part of the revue One to Another, which opened at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, on 15 July 1959, and transferred to the Apollo Theatre, London, on 19 August 1959.

Gladly Otherwise was revived with his play A Resounding Tinkle at the Donmar Warehouse in July 2007.

If So, Then Yes

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

I shall shortly be eighty-eight. High time to be giving serious thought to the direction my life should be taking.

In an upper-crust retirement home, Geoffrey Wythenshaw sits down to write his memoir. But he faces constant interruption from his fellow residents, attending staff and an invasion of downmarket pensioners from the Cairngorms. Some of them seek his wisdom, others only distraction.

Examining with heart and humour what it means to grow old, N. F. Simpson's If So, Then Yes premiered at the Jermyn Street Theatre, London, in September 2010, in a production by Presence Theatre.

A Resounding Tinkle

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

N. F. Simpson, whose work includes One Way Pendulum, led the twentieth century British Absurdist movement. His first play, A Resounding Tinkle, was one of the winners in the Observer play competition in 1957. The 'incessant ambush of non-sequiturs', as Kenneth Tynan described it, is a gloriously comic revelation of the absurdity of every day life.

A Resounding Tinkle was revived with the sketch Gladly Otherwise at the Donmar Warehouse in July 2007.

She's All Yours

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Alcide Chanal is recording a message of congratulations on his phonograph to send to his sister ahead of her wedding, but is interrupted by a string of guests – his friend Hubertin, and the politician Coustillou – as well as his wife Francine who has a matrimonial communication of her own; she has finally worked up the courage to tell her husband that she has been unfaithful to him. She has a lover, who loves her, makes her feel valued beyond the trappings of being a mere wife. Sadly for her, Alcide doesn't believe her.

It is nonetheless true: and to compound this cuckolding so close to home, Alcide unwittingly leases his ground floor apartment in his building to his rival, an ex-schoolmate named Massenay.

When Massenay and Francine's cooing is captured by the phonograph, Alcide has proof positive that his wife has been unfaithful, though not who his rival is. Delighted by this dramatic turn of events, he pursues each of his suspects manfully, intending to extract his justice as though it were a rare and juicy pleasure.

In his introduction, translator Kenneth McLeish draws a parallel between this 1904 farce, and the Naturalists' serious dramas of the same period; like Ibsen, for example, Feydeau's play is 'close to the Naturalist plays of the period in which bourgeois hypocrisy, especially in sexual matters, was satirised in more serious dramatic form.'

She's All Yours was first performed at the Théâtre des Nouveautés, Paris.

Term drawn by Martin Esslin from the existentialist Albert Camus, who used it to describe the situation of humankind seeking meaning in a universe that does not provide it. Esslin applied this term, somewhat misleadingly, to the new, primarily French Experimental Theatre of the 1950s especially the works of Eugène Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, Fernando Arrabal and Arthur Adamov. Ionesco suggested the term ‘theatre of the unexpected’ for his work, and Rosette Lamont proposed ‘metaphysical farce’, but the existentialist term ‘absurd’ has remained the most popular, though none of these writers was in fact an existentialist.

Although the ‘absurdists’ were never really a coherent movement, their plays did share a rejection of realistic settings, characters and situations, along with conventional logic, and offered instead portrayals of meaninglessness, isolation and the breakdown of language. The term came to be applied more widely, to playwrights Such as Edward Albee, Slawomir Mrozek and Harold Pinter, and its roots were traced back to the Theatre of the Grotesque, Witkiewicz, Valleinclán, Jarry, even Shakespeare and the Romans – at which point loose usage rendered it meaningless.

from Marvin Carlson, The Continnum Companion to Twentieth Century Theatre, ed. Colin Chambers (London, 2002).