Our Man In Paris: Theatre of the absurdly successful

Share
Related Topics

The rue de la Huchette is the ghastliest street in Paris, a narrow passage crammed with kebab houses and trashy souvenir shops, in the tourist-infested heart of the Latin Quarter. For 46 years, it has also been the home of a remarkable cultural institution, a world record-holder, that is relatively little known or celebrated even by the French.

I dropped in the other night on the Théâtre de la Huchette, a tiny play-house, whose 100-seat auditorium opens straight off the street. The same two plays by Eugène Ionesco - the Romanian, but adopted French master of the theatre of the absurd - have been performed here nightly (Sundays excepted) since 16 February 1957.

Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, first shown in London in 1952, is usually claimed to be the longest-running play in the world. In 1973, however, The Mousetrap moved from one West End theatre to another. The production reinvented itself with new direction and new scenery.

The two short Ionesco plays at the Huchette have never moved. La Cantatrice Chauve (performed in English as The Bald Prima Donna) and La Leçonhave been performed here for 46 years and three months, during the reigns of six French presidents and 22 prime ministers. The production is unchanged. So is the scenery. Of the original troupe of 60 actors, three still perform. (There are six or more actors for each of the nine roles in the two plays, and the cast rotates every two to three weeks.)

The Théâtre de la Huchette claims that its 14,600-odd performances of the two plays make it the true world record-holder for theatrical longevity. The Huchette certainly owns the record for the longest, continuous run of a play (or plays) in one theatre.

"There is another, more important difference with The Mousetrap," says Jacques Legré, 65, the Huchette's director since 1975, who retires next month. "The Mousetrap started as a detective thriller, and is still a detective thriller. When we started off, Ionesco was avant-garde. We were regularly booed and insulted in the press. Ionesco has now become part of the classical repertoire."

M. Legré is also an actor. He has been appearing, on and off, as Mr Smith or Mr Martin, in La Cantatrice Chauve since 1960. This play was first produced at another theatre in Paris in 1950. The director was Nicolas Bataille, who also took the role of Mr Martin. M. Bataille directed the Huchette "revival" in 1957 and, now in his mid-seventies, still appears occasionally as Mr Martin at the Huchette (surely another record).

"When we set out, we had no thought of having a long run," says M. Legré. "The first year was a success, so we did a second and then a third. And here we still are. We rarely have an empty seat. Most of the audience is young, but there are also people who were brought along by their parents and now come back with their own children."

The plays last for one hour each and are followed by a third play, not by Ionesco, which changes every few months. You can book to see any one, two or all three.

The Ionesco plays are wonderfully funny and beautifully acted. The first is the story of an English couple, the Smiths, who remember, after they have finished eating, that they have invited another couple, Mr and Mrs Martin to dinner. An awkward evening is interrupted by The Captain, a fireman, who looks like a cross between a Gestapo officer and an English policeman. He relates a series of portentous but meaningless anecdotes and aphorisms, culminating in: "The bald female opera-singer always does her hair the same way."

The second play is a satire on the abstractions of the French education system (or so it seemed to me). An ambitious schoolgirl turns up for a private lesson with a kindly, pompous professor, who tries, unsuccessfully, to fill her mind with absurdly theoretical and partially incorrect information. He becomes so frustrated that, in the end, he stabs her. She turns out to be the 40th victim that day.

Ionesco is now performed in scores of languages all over the world but the acknowledged reference, for those who know, is the Huchette: a kind of Royal Shakespeare Company of the theatre of the absurd.

Reasonable understanding of French is enough to follow what is happening on stage (in so far as anyone can). Even after 46 years, seats are precious and you should book in advance: Théâtre de la Huchette, 23 rue de la Huchette, 75005 Paris (0033 1 43 26 38 99).

Something sinister in the changing rooms

The French are taller than they were 30 years ago. French men are fatter but have smaller bottoms. French women are broader in the waist and have bigger, and lower, breasts.

This presents a problem for the ready-to-wear clothes industry, which bases its standard sizes on a survey of the shape of average French bodies in 1970. From Friday, the federation of French clothing industries is sending two computer scanners on an 18-month voyage of discovery through the changing-rooms of clothes shops and department stores. Volunteers, aged from five to 70 - 12,000 of them - will be scanned. The result should be the most accurate, three-dimensional pictures ever created of the standard shapes of French men, women and children.

The campaign is part of an EU-approved policy called "E-Tailor". A similar survey is planned in Britain. Does the Daily Mail know about this? Clearly, something sinister is afoot. The clothes industry, and the Eurocrats in Brussels, say that they are merely trying to make off-the-peg clothes fit better. What if they were planning secretly to breed Europeans of standard sizes?

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geography Teacher

£130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

Do you want to work in Education?

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Arts Editor: The Great Character Actors of Football

David Lister
 

All at sea on the night my world turned upside down

Rebecca Armstrong
Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players