Wednesday, 30 July 2008

In the Salle Richelieu

It was my second visit to the Comedie Francaise but my first evening performance. The play was Cyrano de Bergerac and I'd prepared myself by re-reading it in French. I didn't expect to follow every word at performance speed but reckoned I could get by with a decent knowledge of the text.

Before the play, we ate at a small bar-restaurant named after Ragueneau, the pastry-chef in the play. The internet site through which I found it claimed that the restaurant was on the site of the original patisserie but there was no attempt at "authentic" decor or recipes. However, there were quotations from the play in the menu and house wines from Bergerac.

The performance began at 8.30 - late by British standards. I wondered if everybody would be dressed up but, so far as I could tell, no-one in the audience had dressed to be seen or to show off their wealth. Parisiens take more care with their clothes but there was no great difference between theatre clothes and clothes for the office or metro. Nor was it evident - as it often is in British theatres - who would be sitting in which part of the theatre. The audience was a group of people united in their interest in the performance and that was all. It was much more relaxed than attending the theatre in Britain.

The setting, however, was extravagant and luxurious - all white, red and gold with chandeliers. The bar was the grandest place of all but, in the interval, it was full of people drinking soft drinks from cans and water from bottles - the few wine-drinkers were in a small minority.

I'd splashed out on mid-price (26 euro) tickets, which bought seats in the centre of the front row of the first balcony. It gave an excellent view of the stage and was more comfortable than a seat at the side - and this mattered since the performance lasted nearly three and a half hours. I wanted to soak up every bit.

I've written a little about the production elsewhere and it's hard to sum up my feelings, especially since the play came from a theatrical tradition with which I'm not entirely familiar. But Michel Vuillermoz was a magnificent Cyrano. He was less romantic than others I have seen and more comic - but in the end seemed the most credible too.

Strangely, part-way through the performance, I noticed how white the cast was. (That hadn't, I think, been the case when I saw the Fables of Fontaine.) I don't know whether this was usual in France (though Peter Brook's productions suggest otherwise) or whether the cast just happened to be all white in this production. But it seemed strange in the light of my theatre-going in England - and not, I think, true to either period to which the production referred. The play even has a brief, one-line appearance by d'Artagnan, whose 19th century creator was not white.

There was a long succession of curtain calls and it was nearly midnight before we left the theatre. It was cool as we descended into the metro - still quite crowded. Even well after midnight the buses were running on time in the suburbs beyond the periphique.

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