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Bull’s Hide, Tough Land

Txe Arana in La pell eixorca (o La terra del brau)

Producing a play by Eliot for a general audience has become a rare and risky venture. Dramatising his best-known poem has proved more feasible in recent years: Deborah Warner’s production of The Waste Land with Fiona Shaw was successfully staged, from the late 1990s, for over a decade. In 2013, Francesc Cerro-Ferran created and directed La pell eixorca (o La terra del brau), a stage production based on Eliot’s poem (translated into Catalan by Agustí Bartra as La terra eixorca) and on La pell de brau ([The Bull’s Hide], 1960), by Salvador Espriu (1913-1985).

We may distinguish two main facets in Espriu’s poetic work: meditation on death / transcendence influenced by negative theology and mysticism, and vindication of Catalan culture (or Spanish cultural diversity) in a context of postwar political repression. The first of these concerns connects with Eliot’s poetic vision; in a less obvious way, so too does the second. Espriu’s most popular poem (or poetic sequence) is precisely La pell de brau, the finest example of his “civil” poetry. As with Eliot’s The Waste Land, critics and readers felt that it expressed “the disillusion of a generation.”

Although La pell de brau envisages national reconciliation, the trauma of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) is at the heart of the poem. Espriu calls Spain “Sepharad,” imaging the hard times of the war and the dictatorship as a wandering in the desert (a symbolic wasteland). The poem’s title translates as “the bull’s hide,” the ancient geographer Strabo’s metaphor for a delineation of the Iberian peninsula’s coastline. La pell eixorca (o La terra del brau) combines Espriu’s and Eliot’s titles, as well as drawing on their common sense of hopelessness and prophetic tone.

Cerro-Ferran causes both poets to engage in dialogue, as extracts from their works are dramatised by the actress Txe Arana – who impersonates various voices and characters, including Eliot’s Tiresias – and the actor Jaume Comas, whose recorded voice is identified with the bull’s head seen onstage, symbolising Espriu’s concerns as expressed in La pell de brau. The stage is flanked by gnarled trees, with video projections reinforcing the wasteland atmosphere. Among these, Picasso’s Guernica and Goyas’s Disasters of War evoke tragic episodes of Spanish history.

La pell eixorca (o La terra del brau) commemorated the centenary of Espriu’s death, associating him with Eliot, the poet who – despite himself – gave poetic expression to the zeitgeist of the interwar years. Cerro-Ferran’s production also confirms that The Waste Land, characteristically fragmentary and polyphonic, can still inspire a contemporary dramatist.

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All Things Great and Small

At the end of Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the Mariner famously exhorts the Wedding-Guest: “He prayeth well, who loveth well / Both man and bird and beast.” In the final chorus of Murder of the Cathedral, the women of Canterbury sing of “all things great and small,” as physical proof of God’s omnipresence:

They affirm Thee in living; all things affirm Thee in living; the
bird in the air, both the hawk and the finch; the beast on the
earth, both the wolf and the lamb; the worm in the soil and the
worm in the belly.

Characteristically, the Chorus uses very specific images – here indicating size, ferociousness and habitat – for an effect of comprehensiveness. The same is true of botanical, domestic, agricultural or farming imagery in other choruses. Various images suggest the richness of human experience, its sensory immediacy (“I have tasted the living lobster”) or its emotional background (“the child without milk in summer”).

The role of the Chorus being premonitory, the images it evokes before the climax of Becket’s murder tend to be unsettling. If, in the final choral prayer, all animals are granted their place in the order of Creation, earlier in the play they are presented as threatening creatures, detached from any human activity or interest:

Laughter in the noises of beasts that make strange noises: jackal,
jackass, jackdaw; the scurrying noise of mouse and jerboa; the
laugh of the loon, the lunatic bird.

These beasts could inhabit the demonic Biblical settings described by Northrop Frye in The Great Code – typically, a desert or wilderness where the divine has no presence or influence. In Eliot’s play, the imagery of demonic fauna also serves the purpose of characterising the Four Knights, when the Priests try to persude the Archbishop to bar the doors of the Cathedral against the return of the murderous emissaries of the King:

My Lord! These are not men, these come not as men come, but
Like maddened beasts. […]
You would bar the door against the lion, the leopard, the wolf or the boar, […]

The Priests seem to echo the women of Canterbury in these lines, although their voice is more closely related to the details of the dramatic action. Concrete images constitute the basic material for the choruses, just as abstract and sententious reflection – in verse dialogues as in the prose sermon – tends to be voiced by Becket. Murder in the Cathedral (1935) was written simultaneously with “Burnt Norton” (1936), the first of the Four Quartets, where the combination of these two modes (imaginal versus meditative) becomes a defining element.

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Who Saw the Ghosts?

Still from Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961)

The Family Reunion had a successful London revival in 2008. Part of a “T. S. Eliot Festival,” it was directed by Jeremy Herrin, staged at the Donmar Warehouse and performed by an attractive cast – among them, Samuel West as Harry, Penelope Wilton as Agatha and Gemma Jones as Amy. Harry, tormented by his wife’s mysterious death, returns to the family home, the country house of Wishwood, only to find that the Furies, representing his sense of guilt, have followed him.

In “Poetry and Drama,” Eliot showed his concern on the difficulty of presenting the Furies on stage, giving multiple examples of “expedients tried” and concluding that “they are never right.” In a review of the 2008 production of The Family Reunion for Variety, David Benedict described how the Furies had been “reimagined as ghastly, creepily perfect, silent children holding butterfly nets, who loom into the room in eerily calm formation after gasp-inducing sudden appearances as if from nowhere”. Benedict compares this effect, and the production’s general atmosphere with the film The Innocents (1961), Jack Clayton’s celebrated adaptation of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw.

The connection is felicitous, at least for two reasons, the first being the attribution of disturbing associations to childhood. Harry deludes himself by thinking of Wishwood as a refuge, a lost paradise of carefree summers spent in play with his brothers and with cousin Mary – the image of the hollow tree, where the children used to hide, is particularly evocative. But these years were obscured by Harry’s frustrated attempts to please Amy, his standoffish domineering mother, and by his parents’ loveless relationship. There is a continuity between their mysterious separation and Harry’s present derangement, which Wishwood will not soothe, as the presence of the Furies confirms.

Secondly, and more importantly, the key question of seeing is central to both James’s novella and Eliot’s play. While reading The Turn of the Screw, we cannot be sure if anyone, except the governess who tells the story, has seen the ghosts of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel; Mrs Grose, the housekeeper and the governess’ loyal confidante, has not had to confront them and is therefore not in a position to reinforce the reliability of the narration. In The Family Reunion, Harry denies that the Furies live only in his mind. Three other characters claim to have seen “them”: aunt Agatha and cousin Mary, whose spiritual awareness causes them to sympathise with Harry and support him in his quest, and Downing, an unexpectedly perceptive valet-chauffeur who has also seen “them ghosts.”

These are not, however, the ghosts of moral corruption or dead innocence, as in James’s story or Clayton’s film: Downing has seen the Furies in their benevolent aspect as Eumenides (a different name for these divine mythological creatures, meaning “the gracious ones”). So has Harry, after the Eumenides appear at Wishwood for a second time, when he refers to them as the “bright angels” that he must follow, submitting to a journey of purgation of his own sins and those of his family.

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Grounds for Divorce in “The Cocktail Party”

Characters in The Cocktail Party can be divided into two categories: those facing crises or difficult choices, and “the Guardians” who provide aid or guidance. The former (Lavinia and Edward Chamberlayne, Celia and Peter) are interconnected by bonds of friendship and (extra)marital love. All characters are present in the panoramic first scene except Lavinia, and this defines the opening situation: her husband, Edward, is hosting the cocktail party organised by Lavinia as well as having to excuse her unexpected absence. Edward seems unable to do either of these things satisfactorily, and the guests suspect that Lavinia has left.

In the next scene, cocktail party over, Celia (a self-confident and dynamic young woman) returns to Edward’s flat, and we find out that they are having an affair. Celia feels that the recent events “settle all our difficulties” in establishing a formal relationship, and explains why she has not pressed Edward, the respected barrister, thus far: “You know I accepted the situation / because a divorce would ruin your career; / and we thought that Lavinia would never want to leave you.” Since 1939 – the play premiered in 1949 – desertion, as well as adultery, were valid grounds for divorce in the UK. However, and despite its relative normalisation, divorce “remained uncommon enough to be a potential source of shame” during the first half of the twentieth century. [*]

Not surprisingly, divorce would take a heavier social toll on women. This explains why husbands would generally initiate the legal process, fabricating evidence of adultery if necessary. Celia scorns Edward for supposedly adhering to “that silly convention / that the husband must always be the one to be divorced” – a convention that would protect women and avoid scandal. She goes on to imagine Lavinia giving Edward “the grounds” – the hint is relevant, given Lavinia’s parallel affair with Peter (another young friend of the Chamberlaynes’), revealed in Act Two.

Spatial symbolism is also significant. Act One is set in “the drawing-room of the Chamberlaynes’ flat,” where the party’s guests – including Celia and Peter – gather. Celia calls on Edward later in the evening, assuming that he will be alone – incidentally, and conveniently, she has forgotten her umbrella. Their dialogue is tense because of Edward’s refusal to divorce, but also because the lovers seem aware of the implications of their encounter, alone in “the Chamberlaynes’ flat.” Celia disappears into the kitchen to check on Edward’s dinner when the bell rings. Refusing to leave or hide, she quickly thinks of a justification for her presence: “I’ll say I found you starving and helpless.” At the end of the scene, when it becomes clear that there is no future for Edward and Celia, she declares: “I shall never go into your kitchen again.”

We might think of this scene as purely transitional, but it is crucial in prefiguring the characters’ destinies: the Chamberlaynes will commit themselves to saving their marriage, whereas Celia (Eliot’s true heroine) will exchange human for mystical love.

[*] “Divorces Since 1900,” UK Parliament, https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/olympic-britain/housing-and-home-life/split-pairs/, accessed 22-08-2020.

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The Economy of “The Rock”

The Rock (1934) contains choruses of great beauty, of which its author was justly proud. Most readers of Eliot are only familiar with these as some of his finest religious poems, ignoring that they were originally part of a pageant play characterised by its ecclecticism: allegorical characters, historical as well as contemporary scenes, comic interludes, even song and dance. The Rock was an ambitious project, not only as a dramatic text, but as a fund-raising activity.

During the interwar period, the Diocese of London became alert to the absence of worshipping communities in the city’s suburbs, and issued an appeal for public funding destined for the building forty-five new churches. Eliot involved himself in the initiative, The Rock being the result. Decisively, it launched the author’s career as a playwright and instigated a lasting collaboration with the director E. Martin Brown. Despite its shortcomings, The Rock was an achievement for Eliot and a source of profit for the Forty-Five Churches Fund, raising no less than £1,500.

The leitmotif of Eliot’s play is, not surprisingly, the building of a church in suburban London. Alfred, Edwin and Ethelbert, three cockney construction workers named after Christian Anglo-Saxon kings, discuss the necessity of the project and its difficulties. Ethelbert, a shrwed but charismatic foreman, defends co-operative economy, as opposed to the impersonality of the bank system: “That’s a bank, that is. It’s all profit what nobody gets and nobody knows ‘ow they gets it. Nah, then: you take a church. There ain’t no profit about that. It’s for you and me”.

In response to a trade-unionist (the “Agitator”) who accuses the three builders of “betrayin’ your class” and “prostitutin’ yourselves,” Ethelbert comically asks “What’s your view o’ Maynard Keynes’s theory o’ money?”. When the Agitator argues that society needs no churches but “decent ‘omes for the workers,” Ethelbert attributes this argument to “some antiquated theory of money.” Later in the play, Bishop Charles Blomfield, “builder of many churches” in nineteenth-century London, appears as a character and echoes the foreman’s view, in referring to “economic laws that are half superstition.”

Only a few years later, in The Idea of a Christian Society (1939), Eliot defended “a direction of religious thought which must inevitably proceed to a criticism of political and economic systems.” He denounced “the hypertrophy of the motive of Profit,” “the misdirection of the financial machine” and “the iniquity of usury.” This was after the Great Depression and immediately before the outbreak of the Second World War. The social thinker was, as The Rock evidences, also a social dramatist.

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Love, Sincerity and Lyricism

The Elder Statesman premiered in 1958, one year after Eliot’s marriage to Valerie Fletcher, when he was nearly 70. After a difficult first marriage and traumatic separation, after decades of frustrated relationships and celibacy, Eliot fell in love. It seems inevitable to read his last play as a reflection of the author’s recent biography: its protagonist, the ageing Lord Claverton, is redeemed by love, which he had previously seemed unable to experience.

The play was published with the dedication poem “To My Wife”: “To you I dedicate this book, to return as best I can / With words a little part of what you have given me.” A version of this love lyric would finally be included in Eliot’s Collected Poems, although it had been disparaged as self-conscious and unworthy of a master of poetic innovation. In The Elder Statesman, Lord Claverton finds peace of mind as his daughter Monica realises the intensity of her love for Charles. The lovers’ dialogues in the play and “To My Wife” are coherent in style.

Throughout his career as a dramatist, Eliot persevered in order to perfect his paradoxical concept of dramatic verse that would not strike a modern audience as crafted poetry: it should be rhythmic but natural. The Confidential Clerk (1953), where Eliot’s accentual lines (divided by their characteristic caesura) flow without ever attracting attention to themselves, comes closest to the ideal. The illusion of naturalism is broken momentarily in other plays: the choruses in The Family Reunion (1939), the occasional tone of disquisition in The Cocktail Party (1949), and Monica and Charles’ lyrical duets in The Elder Statesman.

In the couple’s dialogues, however, we also find exemples of verse applied to simple conversation and apparently trivial matters, as in the following verse lines from Act One, where Charles and Monica each speaks one half of the line:

CHARLES: Is your father at home today?

MONICA: You’ll see him at tea.

*****

MONICA: If you don’t like shopping with me…

CHARLES: Of course I like shopping with you.

In Act Three, the young lovers meet again. During their separation, Monica has been concerned about her father, plunged in abstracted gloom, and about her brother Michael’s unsettled life. During her fiancé’s absence, she has realised how much she needs and loves him. Charles also professes his love to Monica, with lyrical intensity that contrasts with ordinary tea and shopping, and with a rather unconventional simile:

Oh, my dear.
I love you to the limits of speech, and beyond.
It’s strange that words are so inadequate.
Like the asthmatic struggling for breath,
So the lover must struggle for words.

The lover is compared to the asthmatic, and the ineffability of genuine love harks back to Eliot’s dedication – curiously, in the Collected Poems version of “To My Wife,” lovers are said to “breathe in unison.” Charles and Monica’s love is sealed as Lord Claverton prepares for a good death. In its concluding climax, the focus of The Elder Statesman is on both divine and human love. Eliot’s fifth drama also displays unusual facets of his poetic talent: sincerity and lyricism, which we should perhaps learn to appreciate without prejudice.

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Would Eliot have enjoyed the recent ‘Cats’ film?

Hot Gossip may have inspired the original Cats costumes

The musical Cats (1981), by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Trevor Nunn, recast Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats as a narrative musical comedy targetting an audience of all ages. The 2019 film adaptation, directed by Tom Hopper, aspired to continue the enormous international success of its theatrical antecedent, but it flopped and met caustic criticism. Claire Reihill, administrator of the T. S. Eliot Estate, declared that the poet “might have enjoyed the strangeness” of the trailer’s aesthetic. The press echoed this suggestion, raising expectations, but would Eliot really have liked the film?

Both Eliot’s Practical Cats and Webber and Nunn’s Cats draw on the music hall tradition – its taste for anecdote and incident, remarkable characters and teasing humour. In an early review, “The Beating of a Drum” (1923), Eliot praised Charlie Chaplin – who had begun his career in the music-hall – as a “great actor”. Chaplin’s slapstick gestural acting, which would become a characteristic feature of his pioneering films, was proposed by Eliot as a model for modern drama, where – he felt – the lack of rhythm was a major shortcoming.

One year before “The Beating of a Drum”, Eliot wrote “Marie Lloyd” (1922), an obituary tribute to the immensely popular music hall actress and a vindication of the genre that she came to personify. Eliot admires Lloyd’s unique rapport with her audience and the latter’s active role during performances. With Lloyd’s death, the music hall seemed moribund, but there was another threat to the continuity of its lively communal shows: the increasing popularity of cinema. Eliot resolutely rejects films as a stultifying form of entertainment, profit-based and mass-produced, a cheap alternative to the performing arts.

This dismissal was expressed at a critical juncture in the development of popular culture; we know that Eliot could be ambivalent, and his views evolved over a long career. As David Trotter (*) points out, Eliot’s early poems evidence a fascination with the technical and automatic (associated by the modernists with cinema), and he found Jean Epstein’s theoretical writings on poetry and cinema intellectually stimulating. At the same time, the author of “The Beating of the Drum” and “Marie Lloyd” enjoyed westerns and the comedies by the Marx Brothers.

And yet, Hopper’s Cats seems to exemplify what Eliot despised about cinema in “Marie Lloyd”: a film primarily intended to become a box office hit over the Christmas season, with a cast chosen on the principle of attracting large numbers of viewers and a lavish use of special effects technology. The latter aspect in particular (interestingly, one that is not essentially dramatic) has been the main butt of negative criticism, since the computer-generated cat fur on the actors’ bodies seemed disturbingly grotesque.

Webber has explained that, while discussing his project for the musical Cats with Valerie Eliot, he suggested that the costumes would reproduce the slinky style of the dance music group Hot Gossip. Eliot’s widow replied: “Yes, yes. I think Tom would’ve liked that”. Together with the coreography, John Napier’s costume design was one of the most innovative and memorable aspects of the West End production. As a genuine aspect of performance, I have little doubt that Eliot would have preferred it over CGI cat fur.

(*) David Trotter, “T. S. Eliot and Cinema.” Modernism / Modernity, vol. 13, no. 2, 2006, pp. 237-65.

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Pizzetti’s “Assassinio nella Cattedrale”

Nicola Rossi-Lemeni as Beckett in Assassinio nella Cattedrale

The Italian opera Assassinio nella Cattedrale, by Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880-1968), premiered at the Teatro alla Scala (Milan) in 1958. It was also produced, a few months later, at the Teatre del Liceu (Barcelona). According to a note on the programme of this production, Pizzetti’s son had read Eliot’s play in English and recommended it to his father. In 1948, Pizzetti and his wife attended a performance of Eliot’s play, and she remarked that Murder in the Cathedral seemed perfect for him to adapt to opera.

In the early twentieth century, the young Pizzetti worked in close collaboration with the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio. Some of his operas were inspired by Greek drama and myth; spirituality and symbolism were characteristic elements of his lyrical dramas. As his son and wife felt, Pizzetti seemed destined to compose Assassinio nella Cattedrale. He also wrote the libretto, drawing on the Italian translation of Eliot’s play by Alberto Castelli. The structure of the original text is mirrored by the opera: two acts and an intermezzo in which Beckett’s Christmas sermon, somewhere between operatic and liturgical singing, is accompanied by an orchestral arrangement both lyrical and full of foreboding.

Before this intermezzo, the conclusion of Act I illustrates what Pizzetti’s opera offers: Beckett’s soul-searching and his final surrender to God’s will can be heard as a dramatic aria, sung in a powerful bass voice; the choir of Canterbury women warn the Archbishop, singing at the top of their voices, or in whispers and glissandos (two of them, prima and secunda corifea, soprano and mezzosoprano, singularize the choral lament); the polyphony of the tempters (two basses, a baritone and a tenor who also play the knights in Act II) contribute to the growing tension; finally, a full orchestra brings the first half of the opera to a climactic close, echoing the protagonist’s leitmotif.

A review of the Liceu production of Assassinio nella Cattedrale cautioned those accustomed to nineteenth-century bel canto: they would find Pizzetti’s opera challenging. He was, after all, a Modernist, a contemporary of Stravinsky or Bartók; curiously, he became Olga Rudge’s mentor and friend in Rome. Despite its high reputation, the opera adaptation of Murder in the Cathedral has seldom been programmed (Pizzetti’s fascist sympathies have not helped). A recent production, filmed at the Basilica di San Nicola di Bari and with Ruggero Raimondi as the Arcivescovo Tommaso di Canterbury, can be viewed here.

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Eliot and Comedy

In reviewing Eliot’s first comedy, The Cocktail Party, the critic John Peter remarked that “only the incidentals” were comical. The character with the highest comic potential is Julia Shuttlethwaite, a talkative and nosy old lady with a talent for creating confusion:

JULIA
Edward! How lucky that it’s raining!
It made me remember my umbrella,
And there it is! Now what are you two plotting?
How very luck it was my umbrella,
And not Alexander’s – he‘s so inquisitive!
But I never poke into other people’s business.
Well, good-bye again. I’m off at last.

The situation and language is typical of drawing-room comedy, which Eliot chose as the element for his last three plays and is by definition light. He evolved from pageant (The Rock), to historical biographical drama (Murder in the Cathedral), tragedy with a ray of hope (The Family Reunion) and finally naturalistic and sophisticated comedy (The Cocktail Party, The Confidential Clerk and The Elder Statesman).

With The Cocktail Party, Eliot adopted a different genre because he was not fully satisfied with the tragic elements of The Family Reunion (the choruses, the Furies), because this second play had been coldly received, because he realised comedy could make the depth of his transcendent vision more palatable and, last but not least, because he was aware that it attracted audiences. And Eliot wanted his drama to be profound, yet popular, successful, commercial. Tragedy became comedy, but the aristocratic / bourgeois drawing-room remained as spatial and social setting.

Peter accurately suggests that Eliot’s comedy is Dantean in quality. Its heroes and heroines succeed in finding their ways to commune with the divine. Precisely in The Cocktail Party, Celia Copplestone achieves this union through martyrdom and sacrifice – so gruesome and inimical to comedy in its details, that it shocked early audiences and still baffles contemporary readers. Paradoxically, and in the context of the dramatist’s vision of the temporal and the timeless, Celia’s tragical death is comical.

In Eliot’s next comedy, The Confidential Clerk, Colby Simpkins’ existence intersects with the eternal in a more placid way. Comic relief tends to be provided by Lady Elizabeth’s absent-mindedness, whims and esoteric practices, in which she has been instructing one of the maids:

LUCASTA
I thought I heard someone singing in the pantry.
LADY ELIZABETH
Oh, I forgot. It’s Gertrude’s quiet hour.
I’ve been giving her lessons in recollection.
But she shouldn’t be singing.

The Confidential Clerk, because of its misunderstandings and mistaken identities, is reminiscent of The Importance of Being Earnest, although it lacks Wilde’s pungent satirical wit. Lady Elizabeth is no Lady Bracknell, Eliot’s humour is gentle, perhaps incidental – his priority is to lead Colby to his rose garden.

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Luis Escobar’s ‘Cocktail Party’

T. S. Eliot’s The Cocktail Party was first staged in Spain in 1952, at the Teatro María Guerrero in Madrid. Murder in the Cathedral and The Family Reunion had been produced in earlier years by amateur or “chamber” companies, but this particular production of The Cocktail Party was programmed by a national theatre, and its target was therefore a wide and general audience, not attracted a priori to what Eliot’s drama represented. Its directors were Huberto Pérez de la Osssa and Luis Escobar Kirkpatrick.

Luis Escobar belonged to an aristocratic and cultivated family. His father wished all his children to have a profession, and young Escobar found his vocation in the theatre: he wrote, directed, produced and acted. After the Spanish Civil War, as the manager of the Teatro María Guerrero, he decisively contributed to revitalising theatrical activity in the capital city of a devastated country, isolated by a totalitarian regime.

Together with Pérez de la Ossa, Escobar programmed Spanish drama (contemporary and classical) and introduced international playwrights to Spanish audiences. His productions of J. B. Priestley’s Time and the Conways or Thornton Wilder’s Our Town were landmarks. The María Guerrero was innovative in its comprehensive and ambitious season programmes, its artistic set designs (including one by Salvador Dalí) and its training of new generations of actors. In short, it established itself as a model of what a publicly funded teatro nacional should be.

Escobar referred to Eliot as a friend with whom he excahnged letters and whom he saw on his visits to London. Eliot, in turn, visited Madrid in 1951, and we may assume that he met the Spanish director, at that time busy with the rehearsals of Cocktail Party and concerned about their slow progress – its premiere would be put off to the following season. In retrospect, Escobar referred to Eliot’s play as the most challenging of his productions.

The unpublished playscript of Cocktail Party was by the reputed translator José Méndez Herrera (he preserved the English title, dropping the article); Escobar himself would produce a new translation, published in 1959 as part of the anthology Teatro inglés contemporáneo. The María Guerrero production was ambivalently received: a feat of verse drama but too dense, morally admirable except in its neutral treatment of the delicate question of adultery. The cast included young actors (Adolfo Marsillach, Berta Riaza, José María Rodero) who would afterwards develop successful careers.

Cocktail Party was one of Escobar’s last productions at the María Guerrero. His commitment to the best drama would continue. Evading a strict and erratic censorship, he was the first impresario to stage a play by García-Lorca (Yerma) after the Civil War; he produced Jean Paul Sartre’s Hui clos (to which The Coctail Party alludes) or Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming. To Escobar we also owe the most professional and polished production of Eliot’s verse drama in Spain.