Grand old lady of Paris comes to the London stage
Next week, the Comedie Francaise will spearhead a French invasion of British theatreland that will last until Christmas. Here we present a portrait in words and pictures of the oldest national theatre company in the world, not seen in London since 1973.
Wednesday 24 September 1997
But, like all old ladies, she has her own coquetries and sometimes gives way to audacities more likely to be found in a young girl's character. She puts on Genet, she plays Corneille in the "destroy" style or Offenbach, in the manner of a boulevard play. She can even be eccentric. But there is no harm in her being an object of scandal for real theatre and real life are worth that price. And anyway, the Comedie Francaise always lands on her dignity.
For she is a national property, like the Chateau de Versailles, coq au vin or Napoleon's hat. The French keep a jealous eye on her. Created by Louis XIV, she sailed through the monarchy, the Revolution, the Empire and the Republics without any infringement of her privileged status as a public institution. She imperturbably holds out against History. The most market-oriented economists would not dare try to turn her into a private enterprise.
The Comedie Francaise is actually the only issue on which the French can never disagree.
By appointment to the Sun King
Founded in 1680 by Louis XIV himself, the Comedie Francaise originally held a royal monopoly on all theatre in the French language.
For nearly a century, it performed in a converted jeu de paume (a kind of tennis court) in the rue Fosses-Saint- Germain. It then moved to the Salles des Machines at the Tuileries and in 1789 was granted a new theatre - later renamed the Odeon - near the Luxembourg Gardens on Paris's left bank. After the French Revolution, the company briefly split into two groups: the conservatives and the liberals. The conservatives stayed at the Odeon, while the liberals moved to the rue de Richelieu. In 1799, the company reunited at the latter address, where it operates today.
As the Societe des Comediens-Francais, the company's actors are employed under titles of great formality, and today number 34 societaires and 27 pensionnaires. Past members include such luminaries of the French stage as Rachel, Sarah Bernhardt, Jean-Louis Barrault, and Madeleine Renaud .
While the Comedie Francaise is best known for its rich productions of the classical French repertoire, its annexation of the Theatre du Vieux- Colombier and addition of a Studio Theatre have led to a new flexibility in mixing old and new across the three venues.
For the company's first visit to London in over 20 years, however, and to launch the 12-week French Theatre season, Jean-Pierre Miquel, the Comedie's artistic director, has chosen to present a true classic of the Gallic theatre - Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux's 27th play, and dramatic swansong, Les Fausses Confidences (1737). A hard-hitting, even scandalous, attack on class and character, it's a play whose central theme can be summed up in a single word: money.
The Comedie Francaise bring Marivaux's comedy Les Fausses Confidences to at the Royal National Theatre, London, for a five-day season, starting next Tuesday. The production, at the Lyttelton Theatre, will be one of the highlights of a season of French theatre that runs at various venues in London and Stratford-upon Avon until December, showcasing the work of venerable modernist figures such as Marguerite Duras and Samuel Beckett as well as some of the young Turks of the French contemporary stage.
Laurie Lewis was given exclusive backstage access to the Comedie Francaise before they left their base in Paris. Coraly Zohanero (above) awaits her cue in Les Fausses Confidences, while Catherine Samie (left) watches the stage action on the green room television while waiting to go on.
Life & Style blogs
Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
KickAssTorrents down: biggest file-sharing site moves to .cr domain after takedowns
Audrey Hepburn is officially Britain’s style icon – 22 years after her death
Is PMS real? The tale of the premenstrual monster and its meaning
The confessions of men who ordered mail-order brides
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Phantom of the Opera writer mocked after issuing a warning about Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon
EU exit would hit UK economy much harder than neighbouring countries, study finds
General election 2015: Labour will toughen hate crimes legislation surrounding Islamophobia
- 1 Frank Lampard's face drops when Holly Willoughby introduces him as a 'Man City legend'
- 2 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 3 The confessions of men who ordered mail-order brides
- 4 General Election 2015: Stephen Hawking says he will vote Labour
- 5 Yazidi sex slaves undergoing surgery to 'restore virginity' after being raped by Isis militants
£40000 - £48000 per annum + 10% bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engin...
£20000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...
£11 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To join a team working with a female in her ...
£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has over 30 years ...