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Sartre Studies International
Vol. 7 · No. 1 · 2001 · pp. 1-18 (18)
Dramatically Different:
The Reception of Sartre's Theatre In London & New York
Benedict O'Donahoe

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The autumn of 1998 saw a fiftieth anniversary revival of Sartre's Les Mains sales at the Théâtre Antoine in Paris, complete with facsimile programme of its premiere, placing emphasis upon the chequered history of this controversial play. The review in Le Monde also privileged an account of the political context of the play's creation over an assessment of the production's virtues: 'Nous regardons la photo un peu passée de ce qui nous avait secoués.' This reception suggests that Sartre the dramatist is already remembered chiefly as the author of circumstantial and thesis plays whose interest depended largely upon their historical moment. It is noticeable that other past-masters, more 'past' than Sartre - Molière, Racine, Feydeau - attracted greater critical attention in the Parisian rentrée of that year, as did one near-anagrammatic contemporary, Nathalie Sarraute. However, if revivals of Sartre's plays are rare in France, they are the more so in the British theatre, and it was with evident trepidation that Richard Eyre revived the work of this 'unfashionable playwright' at the Almeida Theatre, London, in Spring 2000. Whether Eyre's nervousness would be justified by the critic's reception of his revival remains to be seen, but the question I intend to explore is why this deep unfashionableness, upon which Eyre repeatedly insists, should have settled upon Sartre in the first place. Given the prolificity and variety of Sartre's output for the theatre, the extent and richness of his theoretical commentaries on the dramatic art and the level of interest which accompanied the premiere of each new offering, both in France and the English-speaking world, it is not immediately obvious why Sartre should now be largely ignored in the anglophone theatre. The following analysis of the reception of his theatre in London and New York suggests that it may be his resistance to classification, his peculiarity, which accounts for the present neglect.

  Jean Paul Sartre. A french philosopher of the 20th century.
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