Les Mains Sales (Dirty Hands - Assassins)

Paula Dehelly (Olga) - Francois Périer (Hugo) - from the 1951 Film version which was treated to bomb threats when it played in Paris.

Les Mains Sales (Dirty Hands) – Jean-Paul Sartre – (1948-1980) – BBC Radio – Past Daily World Theatre

Les Mains Sales (Dirty Hands - Assassins)
Paula Dehelly (Olga) – Francois Périer (Hugo) – from the 1951 Film version which was treated to bomb threats when it played in Paris.

Les Mains Sales – (Dirty Hands aka: Assassins) by Jean-Paul Sartre – BBC Radio – December 1980 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –

Perhaps something timely tonight, considering the world in general. A Radio adaptation of the Jean-Paul Sartre play Les Mains Sales, also known as Dirty Hands and announced in this BBC Radio production as Assassins – all of which were valid titles in what became a play, a novelization, a Movie and a radio version.

Here’s the Wikipedia description (the site has the plot):

It was first performed on 2 April 1948 at the Theatre Antoine in Paris, directed by Pierre Valde and starring François Périer, Marie Olivier and André Luguet.

A political drama set in the fictional country of Illyria between 1943 and 1945, the story is about the assassination of a leading politician. The story is told mainly in the form of a flashback, with the killer describing how he carried out his mission. The killer’s identity is established from the beginning, but the question is whether his motivations were political or personal. Thus, the play’s main theme is not on who did it but on why it was done.

Sartre set the play in Illyria, a fictional Eastern European country, during the latter stages of World War II. (Illyria was an actual country of classical antiquity, whose territory included modern Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Greece, Serbia and surroundings.) The country, an ally of Nazi Germany, is on the verge of being annexed to the Eastern Bloc.

World War II has a lot to do with this play and how it was written. Illyria (also the location of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night) was presumably based upon Hungary. The ‘Parti Proletarian’ is the communist party to which most of the main characters in the story belong. They are fighting for “une société sans classes” (“a classless society”). The other two parties mentioned in this play are the Regent’s Fascist government which supports Germany and the ‘Pentagone’ which is made up of the middle classes.

Hungary at that time was ruled by a Regent, Miklós Horthy who appointed Prime Minister Gyula Gömbös in 1932. Gömbös wanted to co-operate with Nazi Germany, and, although this ended Hungary’s depression, it made it economically dependent on Germany. The Hungarian government supported the policies and goals of Nazi Germany.

In 1938, the new Prime Minister, Kálmán Darányi, decided to make his new policies very pro-Germany and pro-Italy, a bit like how Hoederer wanted to join with the other parties to try to evolve as a country and stay on everyone’s good side to get his own party’s point across.

Les Mains Sales is primarily based on the theme of existentialism which Sartre espoused, but many have taken it as a straightforward political drama. Right-wingers welcomed it as anti-communist, and left-wingers attacked it for the same reason. When the film version [fr] was released in France in 1951 Communists threatened the cinemas showing it. In fact the play itself was not re-staged in France until 1976.

The play was not staged in a socialist state until November 1968 when it was shown in Prague after the invasion of Czechoslovakia by fellow Warsaw Pact forces.

Underlying the critics’ response to Sartre and Les Mains Sales is the extent to which it is a play too rooted in themes of politics and existentialism, and whether, as a consequence, it becomes inaccessible for the average spectator.

Non-French versions of the play have had other titles, including Dirty Hands, The Assassin, Red Gloves and Crime Passionnel.

In 1982, the play was performed at the Greenwich Theatre in London under the title of The Assassin, starring Edward Woodward and Michele Dotrice. It was performed again later in 2000 in Britain under the title of The Novice, starring Jamie Glover as Hugo and Kenneth Cranham as Hoederer. The director of this performance, Richard Eyre, intended to raise conflicting differences in contemporary British political life, such as the Northern Ireland peace process or the Old and New factions of Britain’s Labour Party government. In 2017, the play was adapted by Leopold Benedict for the Pembroke Players, under the title of a Dirty Hands: A Brexistential Crisis, to comment on the politics of the post-Brexit era.

The cast for this 1980 BBC Radio Production:

Olga: Miriam Margoyles – Hugo: Christian Rodska – Charles: Christopher Scott – Franz:John McAndrew – Louis: Martyn Read – Ivan: David Bradshawe – Jessica: Janes Knowles – Georges: Anthony Jackson – Slick: Tony Robinson – Hoederer: Robert Land – Karsky: Brian Haines – Prince Paul: Geoffrey Matthews.

Production is directed by Martin Jenkins.

Enjoy – if you do, there’s more in the wings.




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