Theatre of Absurd, today — Bihan Banerjee
It’s 2019, you had a busy day at college. The professors kept teaching after the bell had rung and have given a heck load of assignments. All that is bearable for now. Because you have just boarded the metro for Rabindra Sadan to watch Bimoorto’s newest production. You brave your way through the incessant traffic, visibly tensed now. For you are getting late. You rush on somehow gasping for air, you climb the stairs, push that north Kolkata uncle huffing on his navy cut aside and finally open the door.
ESTRAGON: Well, shall we go?
VLADIMIR: Yes, let’s go.
[They do not move.]
Welcome, to the theatre of absurd. This term was first coined by Martin Esslin in his 1962 pioneering book of the same name. He was the first person, to formalise the theatre of absurd.
What is absurd though? Jean Genet would say, ‘everything!’
A dictionary would say, ‘the quality or state of being ridiculous or wildly unreasonable.’ In other words, the whole of life.
I am skipping too much. Let me start where it all started. The second world war had just ended and on the evening of 17 February 1952, an abridged version of the play Waiting for Godot (above excerpts) was performed in the studio of the Club d’Essai de la Radio and was broadcast on French radio. The critics hated it and some even said as far as,’ I cannot see the point of it.’
Fast forward to the evening of 19th November 1957, Waiting for Godot is about to be performed once more (meanwhile many other productions have been already dramatized, and were not accepted by the intelligentsia). But this time its going to be acted in front of hundreds of convicts in the North Hall of the San Quentin penitentiary. It was, ‘a sea of flickering matches that the convicts tossed over their shoulders after lighting their cigarettes.’ Herbert Blau, the director of this particular production walks up to the stage to prepare the audience for what was about to come. He speaks. “This play is like a piece of jazz music. To which one must listen, for whatever one may. “
‘The play began. And what had disappointed the sophisticated audiences of Paris, London, and New York was immediately grasped by an audience of convicts.’
Apparently, there were three muscular men in that prison who had planned to make their escape that night but alas! They had made one mistake, they had listened and looked at the stage for two minutes too long.
“Estragon: We lost our rights? Vladimir: We got rid of them.”
Coming back to absurdism, it is the belief that human beings exist in a purposeless, chaotic universe. The earlier absurd modernist plays have been said to be inspired from the existential themes in the works of Albert Camus, particularly The Myth of Sisyphus.
The post- Second World War society was too bleak, devasted and shell shocked. Light comedy didn’t do it for them anymore. They needed something raw and vulnerable. And thus, over the succeeding decades many writers such as Samuel Becket, Eugene Ionesco, Jean Genet, Arthur Adamov, Harold Pinter wrote plays which dealt with themes such as the innate hopelessness of a human life and the absence of meaning in any of it.
The structure of these plays was dictated by the ideas they propagated. Therefore, they did away with all the logical structures of a traditional play. The language in these plays was often dislocated, full of cliches, puns, repetitions, and non sequiturs. The frantic busyness, served to underscore the fact that nothing we ever do will change the nature of our existence.
Why does it matter now?
It’s 2021. You are at your closest to being Netaji. It has been almost a year since your house arrest. You wake up in the evening and go to sleep at the dawn. You don’t remember the last time you saw the mountains, the rivers or the forests. You were sure you would start something constructive tomorrow, last month.
“ESTRAGON: Don’t touch me! Don’t question me! Don’t speak to me! Stay with me!
VLADIMIR: Did I ever leave you?
ESTRAGON: You let me go.”
1. The Theatre of Absurd — Martin Esslin
2. Theatre of Absurd — Britannica (https://www.britannica.co/art/Theatre-of-the-Absurd)
3. Waiting For Godot- Samuel Beckett
4. Waiting For Godot — Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waiting_for_Godot#Production_history)