“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago, late December, 1922, Montmartre, Paris; and West End, London

In Paris, the Ballets Russes is performing Parade, which they premiered here five years ago with music by Erik Satie, 56, and a scenario written by Jean Cocteau, 33. The scenery, curtains and costumes are all created in a Cubist style by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, 41, who gets his own ovation when the audience stands up to cheer, and faces the box he is seated in.

A costume for Parade designed by Pablo Picasso

But the big success of the season is Cocteau’s production of Antigone, his “contraction” of Sophocles’ original, as Cocteau calls it.

Picasso also received a round of cheers during the rehearsals for the play, when Cocteau brought him to an almost bare set, with just some masks and a violet-blue and white backdrop, and told the painter to create a hot, sunny day.

Picasso paced the stage. Picked up a piece of red chalk. Rubbed the white boards with it until they looked like marble. Dipped a brush in a bottle of ink. Drew some lines on the background and blackened in a few spaces.

Three Doric columns appeared. All those watching applauded.

Cocteau also persuaded Coco Chanel, 39, to design the heavy Scotch woolen costumes for Oedipus’s daughters.

Antigone is packing them in at the 100-year-old Théâtre de l’Atelier, owned by the actor and drama teacher Charles Dullin, 37, who directed the production and appears in it as well. Dullin’s mother pawned the family’s furniture and silverware to get enough money for Charles to buy and renovate this theatre.

Théâtre de l’Atelier,

Cocteau himself is playing the part of the Chorus, and also in the cast is one of Dullin’s students, Antonin Artaud, 26. The music for the play has been written by Swiss composer Arthur Honegger, 30, and the lead is played by a Romanian dancer, Génica Athanasiou, 25, who speaks so little French she had to learn her lines syllable by syllable. As a reward for her efforts, Cocteau has dedicated the production to her.

Génica Athanasiou by Man Ray

Each evening begins with a short curtain-raiser by Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello, 55, who had success last year with his Six Characters in Search of an Author.

The names Picasso, Chanel and Pirandello are what initially drew the crowds. However, now that Antigone is a big hit, Cocteau is becoming a cult figure among young men who show up in large groups to applaud each night. Some have even been hanging around outside Cocteau’s house and climbing up the lamp post just to get a look at him.

Jean Cocteau by Man Ray


In London’s West End, German Count Harry Kessler, 54, is enjoying theatre while visiting the city for the first time since the Great War broke out. He confides his impressions to his diary,

Not much change in the shops. They are as good class and as elegant as they used to be. But there is no longer the astounding amount of hustle and luxury as in 1914 and which is still to be met in Paris. It can be sensed that the country has become poorer and the shoppers rarer…[At the theatre] to my astonishment, at least half the men in the stalls were in lounge suits, the rest in dinner jackets, and only five or six in tails. A real revolution or, more accurately, the symptom of such.”

A West End theatre audience

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s. Volumes I through III, covering 1920 through 1922 are available as signed copies at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA, and on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in print and e-book formats. For more information, email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com.

Early next year I will be talking about the centenary of the publication of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Pittsburgh, and about The Literary 1920s in Paris and New York City at the Osher program at Carnegie-Mellon University.

If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”:  Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.

Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is also available d on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in both print and e-book versions.