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2020: A Theater of the Absurd for Europe’s Playhouses

Sure, we’ve learned to embrace Zoom and YouTube to savor virtual productions, which are preferable to none at all. But London feels ready to return to full theatrical form as soon as conditions allow — and if not? Well, this strange new normal should give Britain’s playwrights something to write about, for a long while to come.


On paper, French theater has been relatively lucky in this pandemic year. Buoyed by high levels of public funding for the arts and rounds of government support, most venues resumed performances between the country’s first lockdown, from March to May, and the second, which started in late October. No major company or theater has been forced to close its doors permanently (yet). That’s more than many Western countries can say.

Yet 2020 often felt like “Groundhog Day” — a never-ending grind of closures, reopenings, restrictions and curfews which, based on conversations with artists and administrators, has left many bone tired. Perceived slights to the culture sector, so integral to France’s identity, have bred resentment. While the country’s new culture minister, Roselyne Bachelot, appointed last July, scored points with the sector in the summer and early fall, the planned reopening of theaters and cinemas in December has now been postponed until January at the earliest, and the grumbling has returned.

When theaters could welcome audiences, their hit rate seemed higher than in past seasons: Perhaps scarcity heightened the thill. In early October, the Comédie-Française troupe teamed up with the film director Christophe Honoré for “The Guermantes Way,” a Proust adaptation that struck the perfect balance between immersion and irreverence. At the Théâtre Gérard Philipe, Margaux Eskenazi and Alice Carré tackled the legacy of the Algerian decolonization war with great finesse in “And the Heart Is Still Steaming.”

Comedy, meanwhile, often felt like a public service. From a warm reinvention of an 18th-century original (Emmanuelle Bayamack-Tam’s “À l’Abordage!”) to the absurd humor of the excellent Chiens de Navarre collective, comedians played their part in keeping us sane.

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