Ionesco’s Influence

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Ionesco knows how I feel when an assignment is due for college

Well by this time next week, my next assignment for college will be done and dusted. It’s for my Theatre of the Absurd module. Every module with college, stretches me and opens my eyes to other ways of doing theatre and throughout the last few years, I’ve gained a list of theatre practitioners that I’ve grown to love and admire their work.

Ionesco is the one for me from this module. As my tutor has remarked he is quite “unfashionable” at the present time, and this is represented by the lack of material on him and his work available in English. This is a real shame, as I’ve found his plays, witty, thought-provoking and in the context of The Theatre of the Absurd and theatre generally, very influential.

I saw his play The Chairs last year and I reviewed it here. I mentioned at the time, that I wasn’t too keen on how they’d presented it, and the more I’ve read of Ionesco’s own writings and thoughts on that and other plays of his, I have to say I think they missed the mark from what Ionesco envisaged.

Unlike other Theatre of the Absurd writers (especially Beckett), Ionesco wasn’t shy of telling others what his intentions were. While part of Beckett’s enigma is his refusal to define or talk about his writings (even though he was exacting on how they were to be performed and that his text was definitive), Ionesco in many cases leaves no doubt as to what is representing what. As someone who is writing academic papers on him, it’s refreshing to be able to quote and consult the writer. His plays do however give the audience and performers the chance to bring their own thoughts and interpretations to it, and he frequently changed his work while it was being originally performed, based on how it was being received by the audiences seeing it being performed live.

His book, Notes and Counter Notes is certainly in my top ten of favourite books on theatre (I must do a post and perhaps create a page dedicated to them), and I recommend it wholeheartedly to you if you have an interest in theatre or Theatre of the Absurd. Some choice gems are;

” One must write for oneself, for it is in this way that one may reach others.”

“A genuine dramatist has the theatre in his bones, he expresses himself spontaneously in the medium of drama, which is his natural idiom.”

“There is only one thing that I’m sure of. It is that my plays make no claim to save the world or prove that some men are better than others.”

“A play is a whole performance, the subject is only a pretext, and the text is only a score.”

As part of the Theatre of the Absurd movement, his work is obviously part of that mindset and influenced by existentialist writings and the turmoil of post war France. While the world has moved on, I find there is much in these writings that resonates with me and I agree with Ionesco’s concern to express the absence of meaning in life. His allusions to fascism and totalitarianism while more pertinent in 1950’s France, there are still similar political and religious regimes still with us, and may well be in ascendency in the next few decades.

So while much is rightly owed to Beckett, I feel that perhaps Ionesco has been sidelined, his play The Bald Soprano was the first absurdist play put on in France and the his play The Lesson the first absurdist play put on in UK and the innovations that genre brought to theatre as an art form do seem to be forgotten by some.

Influencers of The Theatre of the Absurd

Another reason Ionesco and his writings have appealed to me is his influence by the great early movie stars such as Charlie Chaplain, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton (who would later appear in Beckett’s Film) and the Marx Brothers (whom Ionesco cited as his greatest influence). These acts had their grounding in theatre and many of their theatre skits were transferred direct onto celluloid. Again many forget these stars theatrical roots. The Marx Brothers would tour and perform their skits before theatre audiences, find out what worked best with the live audience before committing it finally to film. The absurdity of these performers is perhaps easier to see with hindsight. Slapstick humour, absurdity of language and visual imagery all key components of Theatre of the Absurd and its genesis can be seen in these early films. It’s also been great that as a fan of these films I can watch them and claim it’s for my college course!

So if you’re not aware of Ionesco, I recommend finding a copy of some of his plays and giving them a read, or seeing a play of his if one is put on near you. Two of his plays are constantly running in Paris (The Bald Soprano and The Lesson) and have been since 1957! I’m keen to try to catch them later this year if at all possible. Other plays of his I’ve enjoyed are The Chairs,and Rhinoceros (regarded by many as his best). Once my assignment is done, I’m looking forward to working my way through all his works. Which shows how much I like his writings as very few writers have I wanted to and read all their works.

Anyway, I’d better crack back on with my assignment as I don’t get marks for my blog posts unfortunately!

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7 thoughts on “Ionesco’s Influence

  1. The RSC did a double bill of Macbeth and Ionesco’s Macbett in, oh, 2007, using the same cast but different directors so casting parallels, as it were, were purely coincidental, but entertaining in their way.
    Macbett was directed by Silviu Purcarete, with loads of additional bits of business that aren’t in the script (if you’ve seen Anthony Neilson’s more Absurd directorial tendencies, you’ll have the right flavour), and as you would expect, it was both hilarious and very disturbing. I saw it on the night that they held a post-show discussion, and an audience comment that has stayed with me came from a Romanian woman with poor English (sometimes via her English husband) who said how much it had felt like her life spent living under Ceausescu.
    Until then, I’d always focused on the French connection with the early Absurdists and not given too much thought about where (or what, in Genet’s case) they were exiling themselves from, but that comment made me think again.
    The RSC’s script was published by Nick Hern, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a copy (or borrow mine – and I also have it in French). And something I haven’t got around to checking – the RSC keep a video record of their productions at the Birthplace Trust, which you can book to view (on site), but I don’t know if that includes non-Shakespeare. It ought to include everything, but if you contact the BPT (if I remember, I will myself on Monday because I want to know), you might be able to watch it sometime when you’re in Stratford.

  2. I love your blog Dominick!!! Good luck for your assignment!!! I’m back to units at the moment… the rest after the assignments sometimes is too long… hehe!

  3. Anna,

    Thanks for the comment, sounds like an interesting production. Ionesco was very anti the Ceausecu regime and in many ways cut himself off from his Romanian roots, as he never spoke to his father again after he sided with the Nazi’s.
    I’ll dig out the script for Macbett and thanks for the heads up about the BPT, I wasn’t aware of that, so as and when I make my pilgrimage to Stratford I’ll look into it.

  4. I should probably put the more generic info about the BPT elsewhere, but for now, I’ve checked and not only do they have the video of the 2007 production of Macbett, with a cast that was in the teens, but they also have the video of a production from 1988/89 (of which I was previously unaware), which, depending on whether it was recorded at TOP or the Almeida, had a cast of 3 or 4, including Simon Russell Beale, James Purefoy, Jaye Griffiths, Duncan Bell and Jeffrey Segal, which I definitely want to see.

    They need at least 48 hours notice, have restricted viewing times, and you can’t take anything away, but if you want to play around on the database, start at http://calm.shakespeare.org.uk/dserve/dserve.exe?dsqserver=srv-ex1&dsqApp=Archive&dsqDb=Catalog&dsqCmd=SearchRSC.tcl

    You need to know what you’re looking for, and I don’t know how you can tell what’s been recorded (other than by contacting them directly) but there it is anyway.

  5. Pingback: Theatrical Perfection? – The Blue Dragon – The Barbican Theatre London – Review « Theatre Thoughts Blog

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