we went to the theatre yesterday, to see a christmas play with pippi longstocking. unfortunately, i was a bit disappointed. agnes says it was good but she seemed a bit bored: the play was announced as being for kids four and up, but to me it seemed that it was for older kids. it was all a bit abstract, they hinted at various stories and the humour was a mixture of slapstick and irony. altogether not recognizable enough (the decoration of hte stage was also kind of symbolic - like the villa villekulla was a painted tent that made enimal noises anytime the tent door opened) - which all is fine for older kids, but for four or five year old fans of pippi longstocking, they want to see the stories and pictures they know, i think. also, there was too much shouting for my taste. it was still alright but considering how excited agnes was about going to see a pippi longstocking play, i had hoped for something closer to her taste ...
I have been trying to revise my skinflint rules and give myself a certain amount of pleasure rather than going to only the cheapest or most subsidised threatical representations. Naturally, those are still the ones I prefer. However, yesterday I went to a major play in one of the big theatres. I still got a discounted price (40€, ouch) and can't imagine people willingly paying the full rate. One thing that I found fascinating is that French plays have not really changed since Molière. It is still a case of mistaken identities, moral corruption, slamming doors and people overhearing things that they shouldn't. All of the 'boulevard' plays back in the era of Feydeau were exactly the same. And the play that I saw yesterday was also just the same, even though well set in the 21st century. An aging showgirl/part time prostitute receives the unexpected visit of her 28 year old son, whom she gave up for adoption at birth because her drug addict husband had just died of an overdose (this is what rules out the days of Molière and Feydeau). She claims to be the cleaning woman (of course) and things go on from there. I found it incredibly well written, and the audience laughed at least once a minute, which is rather amazing.
It stars Victoria Abril (an Almadovar star but who has been in so many other things) and Jean-Baptiste Maunier, who was the little child star of The Chorists with the golden voice, except that now he is a giant of 1m94 (6'4" for Americans and Liberians). There is also a sleazy concierge, a dumb-as-a-bag-of-rocks fireman stud, and a vivacious strip tease girl. I was a bit surprised by the huge number of Spanish spectators (even if they were probably mostly Parisian Spaniards), so I guess that Victoria Abril is really a huge star for them. I feared I would do so, but I absolutely did not regret my 40 euros. Due to my 'discount' ticket I was in the front row, which is not considered to be the best (the expensive seats start at row 6), but I am tall enough not to have to worry about such details.
However, if I glanced upwards, this is what I saw.
Since I have started going to the theatre again (actually I have been two other times since that last report without telling you), I decided to see another play at one of the principal theatres of Paris, the Théâtre de Paris. Just from the name, you can tell that it is not a minor theatre.
I normally don't go to the Sunday afternoon performances since the average age of spectators seems to be 90 (but sometimes accompanied by a grandchild), but the price was right. It was a Czech play by Petr Zelenka and has not been staged in many other countries. This production headlined one of France's top movie stars, Karin Viard, but I was more attracted by the director, the Argentinian Marcial di Fonzo Bo, who has actually spent most of his adult life working in France. I've seen quite a few things of his, so I was assured that he would do an unusual take on the subject.
Hey, here's my seat in the theatre, #22 on the left in the balcony.
The play is about an arrogant and bitchy artistic casting agent at the height of her career. She is so sure of herself that she merges her company with another company in London. Big mistake. Her nastiness comes back and bites her (think of Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada). Her father dies, her husband leaves her, and she finally gets fired from her own company. She goes onto semi-porno photo shoots and from stilettos to trainers. The low point of her life is when she is living in the storage room of the building from which she has been evicted and is accused of having peed in the elevator. To get revenge, she decides to shit in the elevator but doesn't know that there is a security camera. She becomes an internet sensation as the "elevator shitter" because she lost her balance after dropping her load and fell into the shit, and then she wipes her shitty hand on the walls of the lift. The video obviously goes viral. I am just telling you this because it is kind of hard to imagine how this can be portrayed on stage. Okay, I will tell you anyway -- the play makes quite a bit of use of video screens, so you kind of see it happening on a fuzzy video surveillance image but just enough to make it funny rather than disgusting.
Things get even worse for her after that, but I have told you enough, just in case the play ever gets presented in other countries. Actually, the ending is not as depressing as I feared.
It was an Irish play called Translations, about the arrival of British troops in Ireland to impose the English language and anglicise the place names. It opens in a miserable rural schoolroom where Greek and Latin are taught but not English, nor anything else of the "modern" world. In any case, nobody speaks English in the village. The schoolmaster's youngest son returns returns after spending six years in Dublin. He speaks English and is accompanied by British troops in brilliant red uniforms, which make an incredible contrast to everything else, which is mud-couloured, including the people.
I expected a play full of conflict but it was more about curiosity instead. One of the English troops is fascinated by the Irish language and tries to learn as much as possible, even though this is totally contrary to his orders. He is also very much attracted to one of the local girls. As for the interpreting son, he finds it an interesting challenge to try to transform the Irish place names into English ones, especially since most of the names have never been written down and have confusing variations depending on whom you ask.
It is clear that conflict will arrive in the 3rd act -- except that there is no 3rd act. The curious English soldier has disappeared and so has the girl. More British troops arrive to impose order, and it all ends on that ambiguous note.
Last night I went to see Florian Zeller's play Le Fils (The Son), which was a big success last season and was nominated for quite a few Molières (the French theatrical awards). Just before the awards were announced, I had bought a ticket to see it a few days later. I figured there would be a run on tickets after the ceremony. In the end, it only won one award, "best newcomer" for the young actor who played the role of the son. The previous year he won the César for best newcomer in a film, so I was quite sure of his talent already. Two days before the performance I was supposed to see, I received an email informing me that the play was cancelled. The purported star (the "father") claimed that he was in burn-out and could not continue. I received a refund. I am convinced that he was simply furious because he had been nominated as best actor and didn't win -- and was probably enraged that the young actor won instead.
Anyway, the play recently returned for the new theatrical season to the same theatre with a new "father" but the same "son." The actor playing the father is well known but not as famous as the previous actor. The young actor is back, and I really wanted to see him because I know he is great and also as a sort of moral support for having had the carpet pulled out from under him just when he should have been able to bask in the glory of his award.
The theatre was half empty last night. Perhaps that will change. That was good as far as I was concerned, because I had bought a cheap ticket for the upper balcony (still 33 euros) and was seated instead in a far more expensive seat in the lower balcony, right over the stage. The performances were excellent. The end was very sad.
Belated apologies for not commenting on your post from June, Kerouac. I see it was made very shortly after I arrived in Europe, so that's my excuse, as I never saw the post until now. Did you feel satisfied by the play, in spite of the ambiguous ending?
Glad you finally got to see Le Fils, especially with the added bonus of a better seat. You saw that on a Thursday, right? Is that a slow night for the theater in Paris, or are there no slow nights in Paris?
I went to the theatre twice in the last two weeks. The first thing was a dance programme called Sauvages with five dancers who absolutely wore themselves out for about 70 minutes. The stage was slick with sweat at the end. It was the sort of thing where one must admire the sheer physicality of the performance since there was no deep message (and no words of explanation) -- conflicts and reconciliations and quite a bit of wall building and destruction using pretty big pieces of lumber. I don't mind seeing something like that from time to time, but I would quickly get tired of it if it were too often. The fact that I had a free ticket made it more easily acceptable.
Last night I went to see the Belgian actor David Murgia in a one-person performance (with accordion player). Laïka is a play by Italian author Ascanio Celestini, previous presented at the Théâtre National Wallonie Bruxelles. It concerns a sort of poetic vagabond who talks about his neighbourhood and the people he encounters every day, a beggar who used to work in the supermarket warehouse, a old lady busybody, another old woman who is all mixed up in her struggle with Alzheimer's, a proud prostitute, and the striking supermarket warehouse workers. He talks about everything and nothing and explains how Stephen Hawking was punished by god for saying that he did not exist, and then god punished Steve Jobs for inventing a machine that allowed Hawking to talk. But his main point is that Laïka (1954-1957), the first dog in space, was the living being that came the closest to god, assuming that a deity is up there somewhere. In 2002, it was finally revealed that Laïka died after 7 hours of orbit from eating food that had been specially poisoned so that she would not suffer from lack of oxygen, the temperature, or some other horror. If the creature the closest to god died like that, is there any reason for the rest of us to go on living?
It was a remarkable performance. The play was only 75 minutes long, but Murgia delivered the text at machine gun speed. If everything had been said at normal speed, it would have lasted two hours.
This week I went to see Crash Park - La Vie d'une Ile at Nanterre Amandiers, one of the huge municipal theatres in the communist suburbs. I used to go to this theatre extremely often back when it was under the direction of Patrice Chereau, one of the most remarkable stage directors in France, also known for some films like Queen Margot with Isabelle Adjani or Intimacy, written by Hanif Kureshi. Anyway, anything he directed was not to be missed. But he died in 2013.
Anyway, the theatre in Nanterre has remained quite prestigious, and I was thrilled to get an invitation to this play since I had not been there in more than ten years. I arrived quite early so I was able to play the free pinball machine redesigned by a weird artist and now called The Temptation of Saint Anthony. It has been completely repainted and reprogrammed to conform to the painting by Hieronymus Bosch with targets labelled S-I-N or D-E-M-O-N. Sometimes you get a HELL bonus but sometimes it is a SIN penalty "no points!" Anyway, it passed the time a bit. I still have the double album Tommy autographed by Keith Moon, which I won at a pinball tournament in Los Angeles in front of the Aquarius Theatre, which was presenting the rock opera.
Okay, back to Crash Park, a very interesting and unusual play. It has practically no dialogue and consists almost entirely of visual effects including slapstick, a genre at which the French are excellent in theatre. The play begins on video screens where you see passengers having a drink and meal service... and then the crash. As the curtain comes up, there is the partial full-sized fuselage of a wrecked airplane sitting in water, just across from a volcanic island covered with palm and banana trees (I did say that the theatre is huge.). Eight survivors slowly crawl out. Most of them are still dragging their rolling carry-on luggage or their duty free bags.
One of the passengers swims to the island. This is where slapstick enters the picture since the water on the stage is no more than 2 centimetres deep, but it requires a great effort to reach the island. The others throw a rope to him and then everybody holds on to it to laboriously make their way to the island. Next is the exploration of the island, which has about four levels to walk around, and since it is on a slowly spinning platform on the stage, they go around and around and around until they have discovered everything. This makes them hot, so they strip off most of their clothing. The pilot strips off everything and is only wearing a banana leaf, which hides absolutely nothing.
Anyway, life goes on. The volcano smokes from time to time and then it erupts in flame. This requires refreshments so a part of the island suddenly opens up into a bar with flashing lights and a DJ in the crater on top. In no time, they have pulled most of the rocks off the island and the inner structure becomes a discotheque with coloured strobe lights.
Well, in the end, they never get rescued, but I don't think they really cared anymore.
That is positively amazing! Even though the water is very shallow, it manages to look deep and treacherous. And besides, that's a bunch of water to have on a stage. I love the rolling luggage touch. How long does it take for the audience to realize that the play will be comical, rather than what logically appears to be tragic?
I got a ticket from www.billetsgratuits.com the other day. I receive emails of their offers regularly, but quite often they are unknown productions in tiny theatres. This time it was a major theatre with major French stars (Francis Huster and Fanny Cottençon). Tickets normally go for about 60 euros, but I only had to pay the booking fee of 2.35. I saw that the play closes on December 31st, so I presume that it was losing steam with a half empty house, which must be depressing for the performers. On the night I went (there were two performances with free seats), the place was pretty much full, but of course you never know who paid and who didn't.
The playwright is famous for his comedies, but this play was very autobiographical and while still funny, I found it a bit preachy and heavy handed in its message. It's about a couple who find out that their son is gay from some photos in a gossip magazine (a paparazzi took pictures of him kissing a famous older actor). The first part is actually quite interesting because it is played in two different versions -- in the first version, the father is horrified while the mother is quite accepting. In the second version, it is the opposite. When they finally see their son in the second half of the play, the two versions are merged while the son explains his life and gets various reactions.
Since you have to find a way to end such a play, the coup-de-théâtre is a phone call informing the young man that his older lover has jumped out of a window, unable to face having been outed. A final scene with the parents and their son indicates that his lover is alive but in a coma. "Were you able to see him?" "No, the family refused to let me in the room." "But they can't do that!" "That's exactly what they can do. Just think of your reaction a couple of hours ago."
I went to a small theatre yesterday to see a show that I assumed would be crappy, and it pretty much was. But since I got my ticket from www.billetsgratuits.com (in other words, "freetickets.com"), it didn't matter all that much even though there is a processing fee of 2.35 euros. It was a one hour cabaret show with 4 mediocre dancers, a quite good singer (apparently someone who was on 'The Voice' at some time or another), and the master of ceremonies who intervened regularly with a more or less stand-up routine which usually missed the mark, but at least he tried. On top of that, last night was the very first show, so it was the proper moment to be indulgent. I don't mind the hour that was lost forever, but it was a different way to spend an hour, so I don't regret it.
I would say that the most interesting thing is the fact that the person putting on the show (master of ceremonies) is an extremely successful sculptor, Richard Orlinski who really does not need to do this but he has apparently had about 10 professions over the years and this particular show is what he has dreamed of all his life. So I think it will all flop, but I approve of the fact that he managed to live his dream. The singer was quite good, actually. One of the songs he sang last night was this one, a Jacques Brel classic:
Since that was the very first public performance, I can only imagine that it will improve as the days pass. Most of the audience that night were friends and freebies like me, so they were probably not able to gauge their success or failure that first night. When they have a real paying public, I hope that they will be very attentive to audience reaction.