Absurd, Theatre of the

Plays

Act Without Words I

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

A mime for one player, Act Without Words I was written in French in 1956, as Acte sans paroles I, with music by John Beckett, the author’s cousin.

Act Without Words II

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

A mime for two players, Act Without Words II was written in French, as Acte sans paroles II, at about the same time as Act Without Words I (1956). It was probably first performed probably at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, on 25 January 1960.

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.

Breath

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Breath was written in English some time before it was sent to New York, in 1969, in response to Kenneth Tynan’s request for a contribution to his review Oh! Calcutta!

Catastrophe

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Dedicated to Vaclav Havel, Catastrophe was written in French in 1982 and translated under the same title later that year. It was first performed at the Avignon Festival in 1982.

Come and Go

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Described as a dramaticule, Come and Go was written in English early in 1965. It was first produced as Kommen und Gehen, translated by Elmar Tophoven, at the Schiller-Theater Werkstatt, Berlin, on 14 January 1966 and first performed in English at the Peacock Theatre, Dublin, in February 1968 and subsequently at the Royal Festival Hall, London, in December 1968.

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.

Dying For It

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Hallway-dwelling Semyon is unemployed and disheartened with life. When his last hope at turning his life around disappears he decides to commit suicide, only to find that a number of people would like him to die on their behalf. On the night of the deed, a party grows towards a glorious climax.

Moira Buffini has freely adapted Nikolai Erdman's The Suicide, which was banned by Stalin before a single performance, to create Dying For It.

Dying For It premiered at the Almeida Theatre, London, in March 2007.

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.

Endgame

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Originally written in French and translated into English by Beckett, Endgame was given its first London performance at the Royal Court Theatre in 1957.

'Outside lies a world of death. Inside the room the blind, impervious Hamm sits in a wheelchair while his lame servant, Clov, scuttles about obeying his orders. Each depends fractiously on the other: Hamm alone knows the combination of the larder while Clov is his master's eyes and last remnant of human contact. The only other survivors are Hamm's legless parents, Nagg and Nell, who squat in dustbins upstage and die during the play.' Michael Billington, Guardian

'Where is this place? It is here, that is all we can say - here before us, on stage.' Hugh Kenner

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).