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Deathwatch by Jean Genet

Deathwatch, Jean Genet‘s earliest, shortest and most formally straightforward play, was first performed in Paris in 1949.

It retains an intense power and makes an excellent introduction to his later dramas – The Maids, The Balcony, The Blacks, The Screens. The French text of Deathwatch, published by Gallimard, was extensively altered by Genet during rehearsal; and Bernard Frechtman’s translation is of the final ‘performance’ version, which supersedes the original published text.Three convicts share a cramped prison cell.

There is no question as to which of them is the dominant dog in the pack: Green Eyes (Yeux-Verts) has brutally murdered a woman and is to be executed.

Lefranc and the younger novice-like Maurice are inside for less grave crimes. But both of them covet Green Eyes’ attention, baiting each other in the process, a duel that drives inexorably toward violence

Three young convicts share a cell. Locked into a world of dangerous rivalries, criminals Lefranc and Maurice compete for the attention of the charismatic condemned man, Green-Eyes.

Informed by his own experience in French prisons, Jean Genet’s first play, Deathwatch is an explosive exploration of the inversion of moral order.

Genet was one of the most prominent and provocative writers of the twentieth century.

Jean Genet’s Deathwatch premiered in this translation by David Rudkin with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1987 and was revived at the Print Room, London, in April 2016.

Jean Genet was born in Paris in 1910. An illegitimate child who never knew his parents, he was abandoned to the Public Assistance Authorities. He was ten when he was sent to a reformatory for stealing; thereafter he spent time in the prisons of nearly every country he visited in thirty years of prowling through the European underworld. With ten convictions for theft in France to his credit he was, the eleventh time, condemned to life imprisonment. Eventually he was granted a pardon by President Auriol as a result of appeals from France’s leading artists and writers led by Jean Cocteau. His first novel, Our Lady of the Flowers, was written while he was in prison, followed by Miracle of the Rose, the autobiographical The Thief’s Journal, Querelle of Brest and Funeral Rites. He wrote six plays: The Balcony, The Blacks, The Screens, The Maids, Deathwatch and Splendid’s (the manuscript of which was rediscovered only in 1993). Jean Genet died in 1986.

Deathwatch
by Jean Genet
English
Translated by David Rudkin
Play
Faber & Faber
Paperback
64 pages
2016
ISBN 9780571332618
£9.99

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