On Wednesday 14 March 2018, Prof Kevin Riordan of NTU presented a seminar at JIAS on ‘The Modernist Theatrum Mundi: Jean Cocteau’s Around-the-World Performance’. This seminar was the third in a series presented by the 2018 JIAS Writing Fellows.
In 1936, in the midst of what his biographer would call his ‘lesser decade’, Jean Cocteau mounted his most ambitious theatrical production to date. He adapted Adolphe d’Ennery and Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days by making their hit play site-specific, all the way around the world. Casting himself as Phileas Fogg, and his lover as Passepartout, Cocteau would re-enact d’Ennery and Verne’s dramatic fiction as an eighty-day durational performance while writing short dispatches for the Paris Soir.
In this talk, I discuss Cocteau’s performance in his tour du monde to reckon with how it might affect our own personal and shared senses of the ‘world’ as a category, a fiction, or a place. Cocteau’s theatrical production on the largest of stages, I argue, challenges our own orientations in the world by illuminating what happens to our critical positions when we read and write about the world while performing within it.