King Eric falls flat on his back as stage debut dribbles away

3.00

First Night Review: Face Au Paradis, Théâtre Marigny, Paris

As A footballer, Eric Cantona was a great player and a great actor. You could not remove your eyes from the theatrical presence of the strutting man in the upturned collar and the number 7 shirt. As a film actor, Cantona has learned to be passable, even good, so long as he plays, broadly speaking, himself. As a stage actor… oh dear.

The great man's theatrical debut won standing applause and bravos but the Parisian audience was partly composed of friends and family. It also included the former French culture minister, Jack Lang, and a young man wearing a Manchester United shirt with “Cantona” and the number 7 printed on the back.

This, one assumes, was the first time that anyone attended the ornate Théâtre Marigny, just off the Champs Elysées - and only a long throw-in from the grounds of the Elysée Palace - wearing a Manchester United replica shirt.

How did Cantona do? Watching Eric on stage was rather like watching Gérard Depardieu… playing football. It was fascinating, not because it was done well but because of who was trying to do it.

OK, that is slightly unfair. Eric was credible, just. His stage presence, as “Max”, a man bleeding to death in a collapsed supermarket, had a brooding charm. But his heavy Marseilles accent and his tendency to swallow words made him difficult to follow.

He was, admittedly, playing a dying man but there were long, apparently poetic passages, when the audience strained to hear what the dying man was saying.

In a play in which he was on stage for the entire 90 minutes - the length of a football match - that was something of a handicap. Cantona was also, I think, miscast. He was supposed to be a buttoned up, snobbish accountant, who finds himself trapped in a building which has fallen down for reasons unknown.

The only other survivor, separated from him by an insubstantial wall, is a chirpily depressive petrol pump attendant, played brilliantly by Lorant Deutsch, a rising, young French cinema and theatre actor. The two bicker and tease one another and then gradually reveal their banal dreams and their banal failures.

In his dozen film roles since he gave up football in 1997, Cantona has mostly played sportsmen, gangsters or detectives. In last year's excellent Ken Loach movie “Looking for Eric”, he played, beautifully, a spoof version of himself. Taking on a buttoned-up, snobbish accountant with a Marseilles accent didn't quite work, chemically, for Eric Cantona.

The play, “Face au Paradis” (Looking At Paradise) by the young playwright Nathalie Saugeon, is directed by Cantona's second wife, Rachida Brakni, a classically trained actress making her directorial debut. With a little known writer, a debutant principal actor, and a debutante director, the show would not have premiered at the prestigious Theatre Marigny without the pull of the Cantona name.

“Face au Paradis” starts powerfully, with a marvellously convincing and claustrophobic set (perhaps too convincing in the light of the Haiti earthquake). The drama is allowed to dribble away in the second half, as if the playwright, director and actors settled for a scoreless draw, instead of pushing hard for the victory.

There are, however, three months of the play to run. Advance ticket sales are excellent. Cantona may grow into his role. I plan to go again in a month's time, and wear my own Manchester United replica shirt.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss