The History of Paris' Théâtre Ranelagh

  • April 13, 2018
  • Parisian theatre
  • Amanda Mehtala

A peek inside the story of how this historical Parisian monument came to be, and all the famous faces that have crossed through its doors.

Like London or New York, Paris too has a rich theatre scene, and many of the city’s hundreds of playhouses have an incredibly interesting history that lend a whole new element to the shows that pass on their stages. As many theatres in Paris are closely integrated with the surrounding neighborhood, their history often teaches us much about the neighborhood and the development of the city. The Théâtre le Ranelagh is a very unique venue in Paris. It’s a ‘théâtre à la française’, which means that all the seats face the stage, and the auditorium is a very specific rectangular shape. On the contrary, most theatres in Paris are à l’italienne, formed in a horseshoe shape around the stage.

La Pouplinière Era

This venue was first built in 1755 as the private music-room and theatre of an old castle, the Château de Boulainvilliers. As the official theatre of the chateau, the history of this venue is closely tied with that of the Boulainvilliers estate for a large portion of its lifetime. At the time, the chateau was on the outskirts of Paris, well outside the city walls. The castle’s tenant was the amateur writer Alexandre Joseph de La Pouplinière, who was known for his extravagant dinner parties and artistic exhibitions. Such events welcomed all of Paris high society at the time, the old château and its theatre saw many famous writers, painters, and musicians, even Rousseau, Rameau, and Voltaire. In fact, as a renter of the estate, it’s resident technically wasn’t even authorized to do any construction, but that did not stop him from adding on the Ranelagh Theatre for his well-attended evenings. While the chateau’s resident may have been known for his extravagant soirées, his art and passion, the theatre, was less than celebrated. Historian Marmontel once said that the plays, performed in his very own theatre, were rather unexceptional, but not bad enough to not applaud. Since his evening events and plays were often followed by such great dinners and attended by the most beautiful women and greatest thinkers in Paris, and the highest noblemen and women, the evenings were well-attended, despite the mediocrity of the entertainment.

theatre ranelagh detail

The Mors-Chambon Era

But alas, the chateau saw a few renters come and go after this unique individual, and eventually became abandoned in the years following the French Revolution. That is, until 1890 when a certain Louis Mors buys up the estate and moves in with his wife to create a luxurious hotel. A man of many talents, Mors had made his fortune in electrical materials before branching into manufacturing his own cars. Likewise passionate for the arts, however, Mors readapted his estate’s theatre as an extravagant musical hall, designed by a certain Alban Chambon, well-known at the time for having created the ornate decor in playhouses from London to Brussels to South America. The majority of the molding and carving work for this theatre was completed in his workshops in Brussels, and Mors was able to use his previous connections in electricity to ensure the entire venue benefited from modern lighting, a legal requirement for all public venues by 1899. It is from these two individuals that the theatre gets its unique ornate decor, still remaining today. Until Mors’ death in 1917, the venue was used as an extravagant music hall housing operas and orchestras.

By 1930, the chateau and its estate was destroyed to make way for massive city expansion, but Mors’ ornately decorated theatre was miraculously saved. And the fact that it’s been classified as a historical monument since 1977 means it’s not going anywhere! Since being saved from destruction, the theatre has been renamed the Ranelagh and houses cinematic pieces and theatrical performances, even the occasional puppet show for younger audiences! The venue benefits from its very own bar, and holds about 300 audience members. The unique interior (entirely carved oak wood) is just as it would have been over a hundred years ago, so prepared to be wowed!

Currently, the Théâtre Ranelagh plays all kinds of classics from many famous French playwrights, from Molière to Corneille to Victor Hugo and more. What’s even better? Almost all the wonderful French classics at the Ranelagh are subtitled in English! Subtitles plays at the Théâtre Ranelagh have included, Molière’s The Miser, Victor Hugo’s Ruy Blas, Corneille’s The Cid, the famous French love triangle Cyrano de Bergerac, and more!

See what's playing at the Théâtre Ranelagh

Discover the stories of some of Paris’ other great theatres:

  • A History of Paris’ Théâtre Gaîté Montparnasse
  • A History of Paris’ Théâtre de la Huchette
  • A History of Paris Théâtre Ranelagh
  • A History of Paris’ Théâtre Edouard VII