The Drama of Fallen France: Reading ‘La Comédie sans Tickets’
In Qu'est-ce que la littérature?, Sartre used Le Silence de la mer to demonstrate the importance of audience for the meaning and understanding of a given text: Koestler in London had misread it, the French under occupation had not; nor could the kind of text Koestler sought have possibly been written for them in the early part of the Occupation. Focusing upon eight plays, Kenneth Krauss is similarly concerned to reveal the dynamic behind critical readings and misreadings during the Occupation, and the complexity of audience response. Krauss has written a nuanced and interesting study that pays careful attention to chronology and to the explicit avoidance of the 'resistance versus collaboration' polarization that fails to account for the shifting and multiple realities of the time. Both French and German censors had political agendas, as did the critics in the collaborationist press. 'La Comédie sans tickets' is Brasillach's phrase for the kind of frivolous (boulevard) theatre that ignored the realities of the Occupation, such as ration cards, but he had his own ideas on what was proper realism. Krauss considers a range of journalistic and other writings to discuss the reception of the chosen plays and ascertain whether and in what sense we are dealing with a theatre of defiance smuggling resistance messages, or theatre as a site of collaboration, or both. In this context, the controversies, claims and counterclaims in relation to Anouilh's Antigone and Sartre's Les Mouches are well known, and Krauss devotes a chapter to each, relating them to the productions of Greek theatre that proliferated under the Occupation. He explores the gaps and divergences between intended and actual text, between the production text and the dramatic text, notably in relation to Barrault's staging of Le Soulier de Satin. The extent to which sexuality is key to critical reception, in both intended and unintended ways, is explored in all the plays under discussion. Although Thewelheit's work is not mentioned, Krauss is on similar terrain with his discussions of fascist aesthetics, homoeroticism and homophobia, complicated by the different ideological agendas of Vichy and the Germans in relation to sexuality and gender. There is a detailed analysis of Cocteau's controversial La Machine à [End Page 414] écrire, dismissed as 'inverted theatre' by collaborationist critics (one of whom was physically attacked in Cocteau's defence by Jean Marais), of André Obey's Huit cents mètres, a one-act play of sporting prowess performed in the Roland Garros Stadium (followed by exploits of dashing young firemen), of the gender politics of Simone Jollivet's La Princesse des Ursines, and the thematics of paedophilia in Montherlant's Fils de personne. A final chapter on Truffaut's recreation of the theatre under the Occupation, Le Dernier Métro, not only offers a fascinating reading of multiple levels of reception in the dramatization of the theatre audience(s) for a film audience, but treats it persuasively as a telling example of myth creation in progress, not least in the transposition of Marais's action into a dramatic attack on a homosexual critic. Krauss wanders into author-based analysis at times; the high number of typographical errors in French and German titles, names and quotations is unfortunate, and the practice of capitalizing the initial letter of any word after a colon very disconcerting, but this is a study that contributes a great deal to understanding of cultural practice and production during the Occupation.