A Foreign Student Attends a Musical in Paris

  • August 4, 2014
  • Parisian theatre
  • Stephanie Urquhart

The theatres, a hidden gem of Paris…

Having been a tourist in Paris for the last 4 consecutive summers, I have explored this vast city, from the renowned attractions such as the iconic Louvre and Tour Eiffel, to its undiscovered streets and courtyards in the quiet local parts of town. However, it had never even crossed my mind to go to French theatre. 

Perhaps the language barrier had been a contributing factor as, although I study French, the idea of going to a show completely in French, surrounded by native speakers seemed a little daunting for my language abilities.

Nevertheless, I decided to give it a go, and attended a performance of the musical comedy Les Fiancés de Loches, taking place on stage at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal. I was amazed by the theatre, it was right next to the Palais-Royal gardens, and I would have never even known it was there, neatly tucked away. Inside, people gathered in the elegant entrance and continued up the deep pink velvet carpeted stairs into the theatre. 

In Edinburgh, where I live, there are a few big, grand theatres, so I wasn’t really expecting anything out of the ordinary, but I was completely taken aback by the beauty of the interior. The striking gold and red contrast that filled the room, the amazing detail on the ceiling and the sense of cosiness as all of the audience members filled the theatre to watch the show. That is one thing, Parisian theatre seats, especially in the Orchestre sitting area, are tighter than in your average theatre. Although a surprise, it was not a hindrance in the slightest, and it actually gave the show a much collective feel as everyone laughed along together.

theatre palais royal paris

An amazing, typically French show…

Following the dimming of the lights and the rising of the red curtain, the show began. My fear of struggling to understand immediately vanished as the actors spoke and sang with such eloquence in order to project their voices to the whole theatre that I could follow the plot. However, for those who do not speak French and for those learning like myself, English surtitles would have definitely enhanced the experience.

The plot to Les Fiancés de Loches, written by Georges Feydeau in 1888, was hilarious. Eugène Gévaudan, an apothecary from Loches moves to Paris with his brother and sister in order to find spouses, and they register themselves at what they believe to be a matrimonial agency, but is actually an employment office. They are unwittingly assigned to the house of le Docteur Sant Gelmier as domestic servants, but believe that they are there to be married to the Doctor, his mother and his fiancée. Thrown into the mix is the Doctor’s old mistress, which causes even more confusion amongst the characters and leads to a very entertaining storyline, funny in any language. 

The musical was a perfect blend of acting and singing as each song still continued the storyline further. One of my favourite moments was the wordplay of the French language in a song showing the similarities between French words and the confusion they cause. Despite the joke being in French I think it would be easy to interpret by foreigners, as the whole scene is very amusing and over-dramatic.

The show featured light-hearted humour and the three siblings from Loches were very entertaining. Together they did a great job of making the audience laugh through their characters’ naivety and ignorance to city life. The other character that really stood out for me was the Doctor’s old mistress; she had an extremely powerful voice and amazing stage presence that completed her character.

A once-in-a-lifetime experience…

My trip to the theatre has made me wish that I had gone sooner, it was a true insight into French culture as I actually got to experience proper Parisian entertainment. As great as the Louvre and La Tour Eiffel are, what are you going to learn about the French by staring at inanimate objects? The theatre actually brought to life the French language and humour and I now understand their appreciation for theatre!

With the accompaniment of English surtitles I hope the language barrier will be broken down so that people from all over the world can share this experience.