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Jean Genet’s The Balcony, which premiered in 1957, is acknowledged as one of the founding plays of modern theatre: philosopher Lucien Goldmann dubbed it ‘the first great Brechtian play in French literature’.
In a brothel of an unnamed French city the madam, Irma, directs a series of fantastical scenarios – a bishop forgives a penitent, a judge punishes a thief, a general rides astride his horse. Outside, an uprising threatens to engulf the streets. The patrons of the brothel wait anxiously for the chief of police to arrive, but in his place comes the queen’s envoy to inform the assembled that the figureheads of the establishment have been killed in the uprising. Play-acting turns to reality as the patrons don their costumes in public in an attempt to quell the insurrection.
Illusion and reality, order and dissolution – these are the grand themes of The Balcony.
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