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New Left Review I/12, November-December 1961


Michael Kustow

A Theatre for Our Time

from october to January, the Theatre du Champs Elysees in Paris will be occupied by the company of Roger Planchon’s Theatre de la Cite. This is an event of European importance, and a must for anyone preoccupied with the problems of trying to construct an authentic culture and create a meaningful art for the writhing world in which we live. The artistic and social adventure conducted by Planchon and his troupe offers us the example of a lucid, active response to a specific national and cultural situation. This situation is not ours, but in an age when mechanical means of diffusion and reproduction are dissolving clearcut frontiers between epochs and cultures, the examination of Planchon’s French experiment can be valuable for those of us who are trying to come to grips with an analogous situation in this country. I have spent the larger part of the past year working with Planchon’s company, and I offer an analysis and characterisation of their work, because it enables us to situate our own efforts towards the achievement of a responsible expression in the theatre and, by extension, in the arts in general. The theatre seems destined to become the focal point of the contradictions of our society as they express themselves in cultural form. In the clearest, most extreme manner, it is a witness to the lack of urgency, the artists’ feelings of gratuitousness, the stratification of the audience, the incompleteness of avant-garde attempts to clear the ground, the persistence of traditions gone ossified, the retreat into naturalism at one end of the scale and into myth at the other, which afflict so much of our poetry, novels, music, and visual arts, only in a much less evident way. This is the story of a theatre in a particular society; its meaning is neither confined to the theatre, nor to that society.

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