Theatre: Making the French connection

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Indy Lifestyle Online
For those of us who haven't spent the last three summers and a small fortune renovating a disused cow shed in Brittany which any sane Frenchman would have abandoned, France is still a country redolent of heady cultural pleasures. This is, after all, the land of Bonnard and Matisse, Simone de Beauvoir and Marcel Proust, Brie, brioches, and bouillabaisse, not to mention Alain Delon and Catherine Deneuve.

As far as the British are concerned, French theatre begins and finishes with Moliere. Racine and Corneille barely get a look in. Ask anyone to name a French play and they will all probably pull a puzzled face before offering up Les Miserables, but frankly I don't think that counts. By the end of the autumn, however, things should be a little different, because this week sees the start of a pounds 1m French season, the biggest ever French cultural event in Britain.

Rumours abound that the impossibly sultry screen siren Jeanne Moreau will join Madame Chirac at the opening night of Marivaux's Le Fausses Confidences at the National Theatre on Tuesday. Not that you need either of them to entice you to see the first visit to this country by the Comedie- Francaise in 25 years. Worried that your school French won't be up to it? Relax: the production will have sur-titles.

The same applies to Marguerite Duras's La Maladie de la Mort at the Peacock Theatre (5-8 November) with the great Michel Piccoli - the actor who makes Gerard Depardieu look positively lazy - and Lucinda Childs, directed by the legendary Robert Wilson. There is even a chance to see Happy Days in Samuel Beckett's French version - Oh Les Beaux Jours - with Natasha Parry as the cheerily defiant Winnie directed by her husband, Peter Brook, at Riverside Studios, Hammersmith (27 Nov-6 Dec).

Meantime, Theatre de Complicite have lured Richard Bryers and Geraldine McEwan to play in Ionesco's famous comedy The Chairs. Currently on tour, it arrives at the Royal Court in November and, unsurprisingly, will be performed in English. Others getting in on the act include James Macdonald directing, the late Bernard-Marie Koltes at the RSC to Michel Vinaver's Overboard at the Orange Tree. As expected, the Institut Francais has gone into overdrive with endless screenings, talks and discussions.

As all good French text books will say, Zut alors! Abandonnez votre Eurostar tickets and hit the theatre. Season runs from 30 Sept to 20 Dec, for further info call 0171-420 0070

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