Plays

Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Qur'an

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Paris in the 1960s. Thirteen-year-old Moses lives the shadow of his less-than loving father. When he’s caught stealing from wise old shopkeeper Monsieur Ibrahim, he discovers an unlikely friend and a whole new world. Together they embark on a journey that takes them from the streets of Paris to the whirling dervishes of the Golden Crescent.

Translated by Patirck Driver and Patricia Beneke, Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of Qur’an received its British premiere at the Bush Theatre, London, on 17 January 2006, in a production directed by Patricia Beneke.

The Mother

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Anne loved the time in her life when she prepared breakfast each morning for her two young children. Years later, spending hours alone, Anne convinces herself that her husband is having an affair. If only her son were to break-up with his girlfriend. He would return home and come down for breakfast. She would put on her new red dress and they would go out.

The Mother, in this English translation by Christopher Hampton, was commissioned by the Ustinov Studio, Theatre Royal, Bath, and premiered in May 2015. Florian Zeller's The Mother was awarded the Moliere Award for Best Play 2011.

Now You See It

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Now You See It is a tale of love, jealousy, infidelity and hypnotism. Ribadier, the second wife of widow Angèle, evades his wife’s paranoid jealousy by means of his skills as a hypnotist. However, his cosy system begins to fall apart when he reveals his trick to Thommerau, a man seeking to romance Angèle himself.

In his introduction, translator Kenneth McLeish writes: 'Now You See It (Le Sysème Ribadier, written in collaboration with Hennequin in 1892), a darker comedy altogether, subverts the vaudeville tradition, even as it follows it, letting the men's obsessions turn them into mechanistic puppets – in a manner English readers may associate with Orton's characters in Loot or What the Butler Saw – while the heroine's character and personality flower before our eyes. It has one of the smallest casts and tightest construction of any Feydeau farce. It was one of the author's own favourite plays and he revived it in 1909 under a new title, Nothing Known.'

Now You See It was first performed at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal in 1892, the same year as The One That Got Away

The One That Got Away

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Duchotel is going away on a fishing trip, leaving his wife, Léontine, alone for the weekend. Lucky for him he has his friend Moricet to look after her. Lucky for Moricet too, as he is in love with Léontine. Can he whisk her off to his love nest and convince him to love her? And is Duchotel gone fishing at all?

In his introduction, translator Kenneth McLeish writes: 'The One That Got Away (Monsieur chasse!, 1892) is a fine example of Feydeau's 'demented clockwork' style of plotting, an effect much heightened by the smallness of the cast . . . Feydeau, who directed his own plays, always made his actors perform the dialogue of such scenes with utmost seriousness, as if they were high tragedy; the action, by contrast, was speeded up, heightened and mechanistic. Dislocation between the two styles made for hilarity – a production-method still followed in France.'

The One That Got Away was first performed at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal, in 1892.

Phedra

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Jean Racine's Phedra (originally Phèdre et Hippolyte) is a five-act tragedy written in alexandrine verse, first performed on 1 January 1677 at the Hôtel de Bourgogne, home of the royal troupe of actors in Paris.

This translation by Julie Rose was published in 2001 by Nick Hern Books in its Drama Classics series.

Racine derived the subject of his play – the story of Phedra's illicit love for her stepson Hippolytus, the son of Theseus – from Greek mythology, principally from Euripides' tragedy Hippolytus and Seneca's Phaedra.

Consumed by an uncontrollable passion for her young stepson and believing Theseus, her absent husband, to be dead, Phedra confesses her darkest desires and enters the world of nightmare. When Theseus returns, alive and well, Phedra, fearing exposure, accuses her stepson of rape. Heartbroken and overcome, Theseus banishes Hippolytus and asks the god Neptune to avenge him by his son's death. When Hippolytus is reported dead, Phedra poisons herself; before dying, she confesses the truth to Theseus.

Pig in a Poke

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Pig in a Poke, as the title suggests, is a play about a case of mistaken identity: expecting a famous tenor to come and perform in his daughter’s rewriting of Faust, the wealthy sugar-baron Pacarel instead receives, unbeknownst to him, the son of his friend Dufausset.

In his introduction, translator Kenneth McLeish writes: 'Pig in a Poke (Chat en poche was first performed in 1888, a year after Feydeau's first big 'hit', Tailleur pour dames. It is a masterpiece of construction, not so much an arch as a continuous escalation of confusion – and the Meilhac/Halévy influence, in that the characters' apparently ordinary dialogue (the kind of language you might have heard in an drawing room of the time) belies the astounding content of what the people are saying or the thoughts inside their heads . . . Pig in a Poke may be chamber music compared to the grand symphonic structures of A Flea in Her Ear or The Girl from Maxim's, but is also one of his most accomplished works.'

Pig in a Poke premiered at the Théâtre Déjazet, Paris, in 1888.

Sauce for the Goose

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Pontagnac, good friend of Vatelin, desires Vatelin’s wife, Lucienne, so much that he will betray his friend’s secret: that his friend betrayed his wife with another woman, Maggy. But will that give Pontagnac enough leverage to turn Lucienne towards his desires?

In his introduction, translator Kenneth McLeish writes: 'Sauce for the Goose (Le Dindon), which enjoyed a long run at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal in 1896, is a characteristic 'well-made' grand vaudeville, with a lunatic second act framed by gentler material. It is, however, driven by character. Each person is clearly individuated and the differences between Redillon and Potagnac or Lucienne and Clotilde make the point that two individuals can share the same approach to life, or the same response to unexpected events, but show it in entirely different ways.'

Scapino

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Molière’s three-act farce was first staged at the Palais-Royal in Paris in 1671. Scapino, or the Trickster, is an archetypal figure used in commedia dell’arte, a theatre practice originating in Italy whose name can be roughly translated as ‘the comedy of craft.’

Friends Octave and Léandre have each found the love of their life. Octave has secretly wed Hyacinthe and Léandre has fallen in love with Zerbinetta. Unfortunately, their fathers have other ideas. When Octave’s father, Argante, returns home with marriage plans for his son, the men desperately turn to Scapino for help. However, Argante’s obstinacy drives Scapino to ever more ludicrous schemes to ensure that love wins the day.

The plot of Scapino is more uncomplicated than previous works by Molière. It seems to lack the social criticism evident in such plays as The School for Wives or The Misanthrope. Nevertheless, the stock formula at play in Scapino has far-reaching roots in the comedies of such Ancient Roman playwrights as Plautus and Terence. While it initially only ran for eighteen performances, the play grew to be very popular after Molière’s death becoming one of his best-known works and is a master class in comic construction.

audio The School for Husbands and The Imaginary Cuckold

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Molière wrote some of the most durable and penetrating comedies of all time. The Imaginary Cuckold and The School for Husbands are two of his grand farces of marriage and misunderstanding, one set in Paris and the other in the provinces. In The School for Husbands, a tyrannical husband-to-be seeks to isolate his ward, while unwittingly carrying her messages of devotion to her lover. In The Imaginary Cuckold an enraged husband imagines his wife is unfaithful, but is reluctant to defend his honor.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring:

The School for Husbands: Brian Bedford, Emily Bergl, Dakin Matthews, Juliet Mills, Christopher Neame, Lloyd Owen, Alan Shearman, Rhashan Stone and Olivia Williams.

The Imaginary Cuckold: Brian Bedford, Dakin Matthews, Christopher Neame, Moira Quirk, Darren Richardson, Carolyn Seymour, Alan Shearman and Joanne Whalley.

Featuring: HUSBANDS: Brian Bedford, Emily Bergl, Dakin Matthews, Juliet Mills, Christopher Neame, Lloyd Owen, Alan Shearman, Rhashan Stone, Olivia Williams. CUCKOLD: Brian Bedford, Dakin Matthews, Christopher Neame, Moira Quirk, Darren Richardson, Carolyn Seymour, Alan Shearman, Joanne Whalley

audio The School for Wives

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

In this biting comedy of errors, the hapless Arnolphe is undone by his own double dealing and double standards. The School for Wives was first performed at the Palais Royal theatre on December 26, 1662, and is considered by many to be Moliere’s masterpiece. Richard Wilbur's subtle verse translation illuminates the great master of comedy at his wittiest.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring William Brown, Wellesley Chapman, Joe Damour, Kevin Fox, Cheryl Graeff, Judy Greer, Dev Kennedy, Bradley Mott and Larry Yando.

Featuring: William Brown, Wellesley Chapman, Joe Damour, Kevin Fox, Cheryl Graeff, Judy Greer, Dev Kennedy, Bradley Mott, Larry Yando

When François I established French as the official language of his kingdom around 1540, theatre rapidly became one of the foundations on which it sought to base its cultural ambitions. By translating, adapting and imitating the tragedies of Seneca, comedies of Terence and Plautus and pastoral plays of Renaissance Italy, scholarly French humanists aspired to raise French literature to the illustrious level of those models. Treating Classical or Biblical stories with a strong political and moral sense, Etienne Jodelle, Jean de la Taille, Robert Garnier, Antoine de Monchrestien and Pierre de Larivey established the ground rules for the genres of tragedy and comedy on classical models. Outside universities and colleges, however, theatre did not attain social or intellectual respectability until the 1630s when Louis XIII and his minister Cardinal Richelieu supported a group of young literary dramatists and used the newly-founded Académie française to codify a set of rules for theatrical form based on Aristotle’s precepts. Thus the vigorous and spectacular dramas of the Baroque period, dominated in Paris by the prolific Alexandre Hardy, gave way to the Classical aesthetic, prioritizing purity of expression, harmony and unity of form, explored by Pierre Corneille then firmly established by Jean Racine in tragedy and Molière in comedy. Between them, those three theatrical geniuses produced 77 plays between 1629 and 1677, at least twenty of which (including Le Cid, L’Illusion comique, L’Ecole des Femmes, Tartuffe, Le Misanthrope, Andromaque and Phèdre) must be considered world-class masterpieces of the classical genres. The patterns they established became codified in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and much of French theatrical life became derivative and stultified, although Marivaux drew inspiration from Italian actors to achieve success with delicate comedies of love and manners. Only Beaumarchais in the 1770s restored French drama to a world-class position, with his vivacious and witty satires, notably Le Barbier de Séville and Le Mariage de Figaro. In the early nineteenth century, French theatre was reinvigorated by the influence of Shakespeare – hitherto barely known and generally despised – and of German theatre; Romantic poets Victor Hugo, Alfred de Vigny and Alfred de Musset composed large-scale complex dramas, combining the comic and the tragic with an exalted conception of the heroic and a self-conscious quest for poetic effectiveness. Their vogue was displaced by a sequence which reflected the broader artistic and literary movements through the century: Realism (Eugène Scribe, Émile Augier and Henry Becque), followed by Naturalism (adaptations for the stage of novels by Zola and the Goncourts, plays by Paul Alexis, Octave Mirbeau and Émile Fabre) then Symbolism, dominated by the Belgian dramatist Maurice Maeterlinck. The middle years of the century also saw the flowering of the genre still generally referred to as ‘French farce’, with works by Eugène Labiche, Georges Feydeau and others providing the foundation for a tradition which was taken on by Jean Anouilh in the twentieth century. Modern French theatre has been dominated by a series of shocking experiments, apparently motivated by a desire to jolt audiences out of complacency with regard not only to social realities, but also to the role of art and literature, and particularly to the place and status of theatre within the country’s literary heritage. Alfred Jarry’s Ubu plays, dramatic experiments within the Surrealist and Dada movements, the innovative uses of space, music and text in the works of Jean Cocteau and above all the French contributions to the Theatre of the Absurd (notably from Eugène Ionesco and Samuel Beckett), all celebrated playfulness, childishness and zaniness to an extent which tired the patience of the average theatre-goer, but ensured that the French theatre’s reputation for vigorous inventiveness and exuberant life was maintained through the century. Alongside such innovative experiments, the work of several major literary figures, such as André Gide, Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, includes drama. The Comédie-française and other national companies ensure the ongoing reputation of the canonical heritage whilst a thriving provincial and fringe/café theatre culture provides a vigorous anti-establishment counterpoint. Amongst other currently active dramatists, Michel Vinaver and Yasmina Reza seem destined to ensure the continuing rich health of live performance art in French artistic life.

by Edward Forman, Senior Lecturer in French, School of Modern Languages, University of Bristol