ABSTRACT

On 16 May 1952, communist sympathiser Roger Vailland’s Korean War play, Le Colonel Foster plaidera coupable (Colonel Foster Will Plead Guilty, 1952), was due to open at the Théâtre de l’Ambigu. The opening had already been delayed for several weeks after spurious safety fears about the theatre’s electrics and central heating, but the Paris authorities could no longer ignore criticism about what effectively amounted to municipal censorship. Press night on 15 May had passed off without incident, but on the first public performance organised paramilitary gangs invaded the stage, attacked the actors, set off tear gas and took the fight to the streets, where French Communist Party (PCF) deputy leader Jacques Duclos was forced to flee with his bodyguards. The next day, citing fears for pubic safety, Le Colonel Foster was definitively banned. The play had coincided with a period of heightened tension in Cold War France, and the aborted production was followed later the same month by violent clashes during large-scale demonstrations against the arrival of the American NATO Commander General Ridgway (‘Ridgway the Plague’) and by the arrests of Jacques Duclos and the editor of the PCF newspaper L’Humanité. In this context, it is perhaps not unrealistic for René Ballet to claim that ‘few works are inscribed so thoroughly in a period of crisis as Le Colonel Foster’. 1