Mais quelle Comédie!

Oliver Briscoe


La Comédie Française
Décembre 2020

We made from the Quai Voltaire, across le Pont Royal on a mild evening, through Le Louvre to the votive palazzo of national Theatre, la Salle Richelieu; l’Opéra, lit, glimpsed further back, far down l’Avenue like a set piece.
  The run was fully booked. My great aunt had seen it first, my aunt had got tickets in its last weeks, just before Christmas. A spare fell to me. For the next few days, asking across idle salon chit-chat, I could only get a vague answer, impressions, as to what we were seeing.
  Even there, on the first balcony, the program made things no clearer and so I sat distrusting a show no-one could tell me a clear thing about.

Yoann Gasiorowski steps from the velvet as his on-stage self and reads out the letter he had written to the Administrateur Général, a figure like the Commandeur in Don Juan, appointed by the President of the Republic to preside, like himself, for a quinquennat over the Comédie Française. Having finished a provincial tour, Gasiorowski wished to come back to Paris and try for the Troupe.
  The show then bursts into Anything Goes and so it does. Their post-Covid cri de cœure, not another Molière, Racine or Cornielle but a faintly sacrilegious vaudeville, the Royal Shakespeare doing panto. A fabulous song and dance running through show tunes and musical numbers, cleverly put together and pulled off, with a cheeky strain of sex appeal. Random comical pieces interlude, technically perfect and so well practiced, pushing hilarity to tears, at its most irreverent with Clément Bressons’ turn as a stage-frightened stutterer or Serge Bagdassarian’s tragi-comic take on Manson’s ballade Avant De Nous Dire Adieu.
  Bagdassarian also having written it all with fellow comèdienne on stage Marina Hands. Their dogs who the next morning had a go at ours in the Tuileries, as my mother was walking.

An impressive range of talents tried out like children playing with a costume box. Simple stage tricks flourished and smartly done, revealed to great effect, wondrous, funny, like magic on the tip of clicked fingers.
  A show written by a troupe, actors long off-stage, longing to face an audience, to perform. Each given a number for a favourite scene, song or something original to get themselves back into the swing of it, show off ; the audience at times left out, manipulated into playing their part in the actors’ show, tamed, brought along to clap and laugh and wait excitedly for the next act on cue.

One of the last scenes, snappy, funny, momentous anecdotes of what the Comédie means to each of them, a first performance, crossing an idol in the corridor. Gasiorowski remembers, touchingly light-hearted, his audition with the Administrateur that secured his place in amongst the mortal pantheon of France’s stage, bringing back for the briefest moment a sense of story.

From a webTV series showcasing the troupe, part of La Comédie Continue! their first, lockdown-forced, offering of at-home streaming, which I have not seen, they spun this, losing the plot. There are only so many rich courses one can taste and the evening carries on through a few more; the laughs still land and the singing touches but we tire of it, all the clapping and then all the bowing and another curtain call.

They sing us out on the Bright Side of Life, leaving you humming, enchanted wanting to tap-dance your way across the lamplit river, still back in time for an early bed. Heady, remembering one scene and another, there is not much more to it; you love the stage as they do, seeing it back healthy and happy.

Chargé D'affaires - Depuis 2020