The direct link between Artaud and the modern avant garde is Jean-Louis Barrault. Taking only the more technical aspects of the Theatre of Cruelty, his work develops a ‘total theatre’ based on Artaud’s concept of the actor as ‘an athlete of the emotions’. Barrault’s first production, a mime version of As I Lay Dying (Autour d’une mère), was performed barely a month after The Cenci; and Artaud’s enthusiastic response led to plans for collaboration. They were to work together on staging Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year in a specific attempt to give tangible shape to the ideal image of drama that Artaud had outlined in ‘The theatre and the plague’ (the key essay in The Theatre and its Double). However, Artaud withdrew from the project because, as he wrote to Barrault, he was incapable of the compromise any collaborative work entailed and believed there were fundamental differences in approach: Barrault’s mime being primarily descriptive, not symbolic, and relating to factual reality instead of presenting hieroglyphic expressions of the soul. But if any modern director can be counted a disciple of Artaud, it is Barrault.
Artaud introduced him to eastern mysticism, Indian mythology and yoga—all of which had a decisive influence on his work—and, above all, to the Cabbala with its division of breathing rhythms into six main ‘arcana’ (or combinations of masculine, feminine and androgynous principles), as exercises for inducing a trance state in which the body becomes the organ of the spirit. It is this ideal of psycho-physiological unity that forms the basis for Barrault’s ideas and finds expression in his ‘Little treatise on the alchemy of the theatre’ or ‘Alchemy of the human body’. 1 It has also been reflected structurally in his productions like The Oresteia, where each play in the trilogy was broken down into an ‘organic’ pattern of neuter, male and female phases.
In 1936 Artaud acknowledged Barrault as the only practitioner exploring his concept of a physical ‘universal language that unites the total [theatrical] space…to the hidden interior life’, 2 while Barrault has repeatedly