The New Wave of French Playwrights

  • 25 juin 2021
  • La scène parisienne
  • Eléonore Duizabo

It may have been a bleak one for Covid-related reasons, but 2021 has proved a glorious year for French writers. Between the success of the Netflix series Lupin and Florian Zeller’s Academy Award for The Father, French creators have met with acclaim and applause right the world over. There’s no denying their way with words! We take a look at 10 of our favourite French playwrights who are making waves in France and abroad. Still not sure why we like them so much? Our descriptions will break it down for you...

©Samuel Kirszenbaum

Florian Zeller

Here’s a Frenchman with talent on his side. Besides being a celebrated playwright, Florian Zeller is now an Academy Award-winning screenplay writer! The French dramatist just took home an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for the self-directed The Lie, Jonathan Pryce in The Height of the Storm and Isabelle Huppert in a New York production of The Mother. The playwright rounded off his family trilogy with The Son, which played in Paris in 2018 before being picked up in London in 2019.
With 12 plays to his name, Zeller has already made his name as one of the finest French playwrights of our time. His writing has been translated into a dozen languages and performed numerous times from the West End to Broadway.
Zeller's writing is unmistakable and his gripping family dramas will speak to every home. So it was clear from the get-go that the cinematic adaptation of The Father would move millions of viewers. The film follows an elderly father in the throes of Alzheimer’s Disease, played to perfection by Anthony Hopkins alongside Olivia Colman as his daughter. Zeller co-wrote the adaptation with translator and fellow playwright Christopher Hampton; the pair shared their Oscar Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Now, another of Zeller’s plays is making its way to cinemas near you: The Son has been performed on stages in more than 45 countries and is being adapted for the big screen as we speak. The film will star Laura Dern and Hugh Jackman.

How can you recognise Florian Zeller’s flare? Besides their short punchy titles, Zeller’s plays share an interest in relationships of all kinds. They will plunge you into a world where couples, families, their bonds and their tensions all go under the microscope. Above all, Zeller’s works are emotionally charged dramas that have you gripped from start to finish.

©Bruno Perroud

Alexis Michalik

Know what unites the new wave of French playwrights? They are all multi-talented! Award-winning writer Alexis Michalik is no different: his dazzling CV includes stints as an actor, playwright, theatre director, writer and filmmaker.
The Franco-British creator began his career as a stage director of classic literary works. His first production, Une Folle Journée (based on Beaumarchais’ The Marriage of Figaro), ran at the Avignon Theatre Festival and would inspire the name for Michalik’s theatre company, Los Figaros. R&J and La Mégère à peu près apprivoisée followed shortly afterwards. These musical comedy were inspired by the plays by Shakespeare. Both productions were a roaring success with press and public alike. Michalik turned his hand to writing in 2011, when he penned his first play Le Porteur d’Histoire, which brilliantly weaves together multiple narratives and eras. The piece was an instant success, giving Michalik the impetus he needed to pursue his writing career. Several plays followed, receiving similarly lavish praise: The Illusionists’ Circle and then Edmond, which delved into the writing of French classic Cyrano de Bergerac. All three plays would win him Molière Awards for Best Writing and Best Direction.
Fingers ever in multiple pies, Michalik juggled his theatre work with screen performances, appearing in films and series such as The Wolf’s Call, Les Chatouilles, Versailles and Kaboul Kitchen. But he was soon back to writing, producing his fourth play in 2017 and his first novel, Far, in 2019.
That same year, he adapted his play Edmond for film (with the English title Cyrano, My Love) and starred in it too. Curtain rose in 2020 on his fifth play, Une Histoire d’Amour at La Scala. Slightly different from his previous work, the production is no less beautiful… au contraire! This heart-rending play explores the power and the challenges of romantic and family ties. And as if all this weren’t enough, just this year Michalik has taken on the adaptation and direction of cult musical The Producers, to be staged at the Théâtre de Paris from 2 December 2021.

How can you recognise the Michalik effect? Alexis Michalik’s plays will enchant spectators of any age, if they love interweaving narratives, emotionally charged drama and powerful visuals. It’s no surprise, then, that there are five shows by the prolific playwright currently running in Paris. And we have some good news: with Theatre in Paris, you can get your hands on tickets to two of those! Get your tickets for The Illusionists’ Circle and A Love Story today.

©Ariane Duplaceau

Jean-Philippe Daguerre

Jean-Philippe Daguerre may well have broken a record: he currently has more than 10 shows on the bill in Paris... all at the same time! A director and playwright, Daguerre’s glittering career began with the theatre company Le Grenier de Babouchka, which he created alongside his favourite actress, Charlotte Matzneff. The pair went on to stage some of the greatest classics of French theatre: The Doctor in Spite of Himself, The Cid, Cyrano de Bergerac, The Bourgeois Gentleman, The Miser and many others. In just a few years, these classics were to become a fixture on Paris’ stages, including our favourite historic hideaway, Théâtre Ranelagh, and the ultra modern Théâtre Saint-Georges. Press and the public are in agreement: these dynamic and musical productions are a joy for all ages.
While continuing to breathe new life into historic French dramas, Daguerre has since turned his talents to more international classics: his successes include adaptations of Aladdin and Alice in Wonderland. In 2018, he brought audiences his first self-written production: the award-winning play Adieu Monsieur Haffmann. The moving show won the hearts of its audiences and the Molière Awards jury too, taking home 4 statuettes at the 2018 ceremony! Set in Paris during the Nazi Occupation, Adieu Monsieur Haffmann has since been adapted into a film to be released in January 2022.
Buoyed by that success, Daguerre has gone on to write several other original plays: La Famille Ortiz in 2019 and most recently Le Petit Coiffeur, currently playing at the Théâtre Rive Gauche. This latest play is another one that’s based on a true story: Daguerre was inspired by the famous French photograph "The Shaved Woman of Chartres". This poignant portrait of post-war France has already delighted the few spectators who were lucky enough to catch a performance before theatres closed for the pandemic. After an unfortunate interruption, Le Petit Coiffeur is back on track and its future looks bright.
Last but not least, The Three Musketeers is the latest production by directorial dream team Daguerre and Matzneff. It will début at the Avignon Theatre Festival this summer before gracing the stage at the Théâtre Ranelagh for the end of the 2021! Over the 2021-2022 season, audiences in Paris will have the chance to applaud more than 12 shows signed by Jean Philippe Daguerre.

How can you recognise Jean Philippe Daguerre signature style? The beauty of classical theatre staged with music, brio and enough colour to bring the oldest play back to life. When it comes to his own writing, think heartfelt dramas based on real events that shed light on historical periods with razor-sharp humour. That makes for a wonderful concoction of literature, history and music: it’s accessible theatre that’s as thought-provoking as it is thrilling.

©Emilie Brouchon

Sébastien Azzopardi

Actor, playwright, director, producer, dramaturge and even co-director of a theatre: is there anything Sébastien Azzopardi can’t do? It’s safe to say he has theatre in his blood. His father was an actor and co-directed the Théâtre du Palais-Royal until his death, while his sister, Juliette Azzopardi, is one of the finest set designers of France’s private theatre scene. As for Sébastien, he began his career writing boulevard comedies and it didn’t take long for his skill as a playwright to become abundantly clear.
From 2002 onwards, he wrote his first plays, (Les Classiques Contre-Attaquent, Mission Florimont) and adapted, directed and acted in the great classics, The Barber of Seville by Beaumarchais and Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere's Fan. In 2006, he had the genius idea of reinventing the crazy adventures of Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg for contemporary audiences, alongside his childhood friend Sacha Danino. With its songs, tap dance numbers and hilarious modern references, Around the World in 80 Days was a runaway success and has gone on to play more than 3,000 performances in 10 years. Which brings us to some exclusive news: the show is returning to stages soon and you’ll be able to get tickets here!
In 2013, Sébastien Azzopardi succeeded his father as co-director of the Théâtre du Palais-Royal and Théâtre Michel. He took the gamble of programming the first plays by now renowned playwrights Alexis Michalik and Benoît Solès. So it’s thanks to him that Paris has seen such masterpieces as Edmond, La Machine de Turing and Le Discours!
Dream duo Danino and Azzopardi would return to writing with Dernier Coup de Ciseaux, which won them four nominations at the Molières, Coup de Théâtre(s), La Dame Blanche and Chapter XIII. Their latest creation delighted audiences and critics alike. L’Embarras du Choix is a completely innovative production which invites its audiences to decide how the story will end. Their input is essential to help Max (played by Sébastien Azzopardi) to make the right decisions in his work and his love life. This hilarious interactive show will make you weep with laughter and you can get your tickets here!

How do you know when it’s an Azzopardi party? Sébastien Azzopardi has breathed hilarious life into Paris’ private theatres. For more than 15 years, he has offered French and international audiences a generation of boulevard plays and colourful comedies, where laughter is key and the audience plays just as active a role as the actors!

©Sofia Konst Photography / ©French Arrogance Productions

Julie Collas & Olivier Giraud

We couldn’t possibly talk about a new wave of playwrights without mentioning two of our favourite comedy geniuses. These two have hit the big time nailing that oh so French artform: le sarcasme, bien sûr ! You’ve heard of them before: Julie Collas, a Theatre in Paris favourite known for her hilarious show Oh My God She’s Parisian, and Olivier Giraud, the unforgettable comedian behind hit classic How To Become a Parisian in One Hour.
These two personalities could not be more different and yet their shows have so much in common... Before launching her career in stand up, Julie Collas started out as a lawyer and then legal researcher. After the 2015 Paris Attacks she put her lawyer’s garb aside to return to her true dream of treading the boards. Soon she had dreamed up her own one-woman comedy gig. Delivered 100% in English, Collas’ show gives audiences the inside scoop on the real lives of Parisians and the latest happenings in the French capital.
After more than 10 years working as a Maître d’Hôtel in the US, Olivier Giraud decided to make his childhood dream a reality by writing and starring in his very own show. Drawing on his experiences abroad, he shares his insights into the cultural differences and quirks that set the Parisian species apart. Jackpot for Giraud: more than ten years on, How To Become A Parisian in One Hour has snowballed into an unstoppable success and sold hundreds of thousands of tickets to spectators from all around the world. They all flock to laugh until their sides hurt at the Théâtre des Nouveautés.

How can you recognise Collas and Giraud’s sense of humour? Both comedians perform one-man (or one-woman) shows entirely in English, giving spectators from all four corners of the globe an insider’s take on French culture without the language barrier. Whether you’re English, French or anything else, you’re guaranteed to find these two Parisians hilarious.

©Nash Pictures Photography / ©Philippe Escalier

Samuel Sené et Eric Chantelauze

For this pair of playwrights, the ‘new wave’ equals a whole new way of thinking about the theatrical experience. No one knows better how to create unforgettable dramatic experiences than Samuel Sené and Eric Chantelauze.
When the lockdown forced theatres to temporarily close their doors, Sené and Chantelauze put their unexpected free time to good use by devising a distance-crossing and boundary-breaking project: C-o-n-t-a-c-t. This immersive theatre experience was the world’s very first socially distanced production! Supplied with a pair of headphones each, audiences followed two actors through the streets of Paris and were ushered into the thoughts of their fascinating characters. It was an incredible feat of theatrical innovation that we cannot recommend highly enough! But C-o-n-t-a-c-t was not the first collaboration between conductor and theatre director Samuel Sené and actor and playwright Eric Chantelauze. With the help of composer Raphaël Bancou, the duo put together several musicals in 2018: Week-end!, Comédiens, Le chat de Schrödinger and Un Chant de Noël. Now that was a productive year! The four shows totalled a whopping 20 nominations between them at France’s musical theatre awards, the Trophées de la Comédie Musicale.
Two years and one pandemic later, the curtain is about to rise on Sené and Chantelauze’s newest production: the original musical Contretemps. We were lucky enough to see a preview of the show and we can safely say it’s not to be missed! Take our word for it: Contretemps is a visually stunning and musically fabulous piece of theatre.
Each member of the duo also has his own list of credits: La Poupée Sanglante and Huckleberry Finn for Eric Chantelauze and Jack, l'ombre de Whitechapel and the musical Into the Woods for Samuel Sené.

How can you recognise Chantelauze & Sené’s style? First and foremost, look for a subtle and sensitive text that transports you to another world. That will be paired with dynamic direction that leaves not a single detail unchoreographed. The finishing touch to these fabulous shows: a soaring score and spectacular musical performances.


Samuel Benchetrit

He may be one of France’s most dashing heart-throbs but that’s not all he’s good for… A true jack of all trades, Samuel Benchetrit shines on stage and screen alike, not to mention as a director and screenwriter. His early credits include the films Janis and John and J’ai toujours rêvé d’être un gangster, and autobiographical novels, including Les Chroniques de l’Asphalte. He would go on to adapt the latter into the Cannes-selected movie Macadam Stories. In his most recent novel La Nuit Avec Ma Femme, Benchetrit paints a heartbreaking portrait of his relationship with ex-wife Marie Trintigant, who was murdered in 2003. As an actor, he has treated spectators to performances in the French films Backstage, Everyone’s Life, and Les Gazelles.
With those impressive credits to his name, Benchetrit will soon be on the lips of all Parisians once again. His brand new play Maman is coming to our favourite Théâtre Edouard VII this year. And guess who’ll be playing the lead? Only his Hollywood-famous wife, Vanessa Paradis, of course. In her first onstage appearance, Paradis will star alongside Félix Moati, Eric Elmosnino and Gabor Rassov.
Unlike his wife, this won’t be Benchetrit’s first theatrical rodeo. He has already won two Molière nominations for Best Living Playwright and, who knows, maybe Maman (which he is writing and directing) will be the play to turn that nomination into a win?

How can you recognise the Samuel Benchetrit stamp? Think witty and poetic pieces, complete with sensitive characters and writing that transports you way out of the theatre.

©Dwayne Brow

Wajdi Mouawad

The groundbreaking plays of this world-renowned playwright have won him a permanent spot in the French Theatre Hall of Fame. A born wordsmith, Canadian-French Wajdi Mouawad’s first success came in 1997 with the play Littoral. That was followed by the acclaimed Incendies (English title: Scorched). Both plays earned Mouawad the recognition he needed to make his breakthrough on France’s stages. Littoral was awarded the Molière for Best Living Playwright in 2005, but Mouawad turned down the prize in protest against the treatment of young playwrights. He accused theatres of throwing out manuscripts by budding new writers without reading them.
To these acclaimed titles, Mouawad would add the plays Forests and Heavens. The quadrilogy would win him the Académie Française’s Grand Prix de Théâtre, France’s highest accolade for playwriting. Incendies was adapted for the big screen by Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve in 2010, winning an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film as well as numerous other international awards.
Since 2016, Mouawad has directed the Théâtre de la Colline in Paris. There he staged his new plays Tous des Oiseaux and Beasts, both of which met with critical acclaim. During the 2020 lockdown, the playwright published a spectacular theatre manifesto entitled ‘Pour l’Ombre’.

How can you recognise the Wajdi Mouawad trademark? A committedly international and multilingual theatre where family issues and political tensions take centre-stage. You’ll find in all his writing a powerful interest in youth, creativity and territory.

©Agathe Pommerat

Joël Pommerat

Joël Pommerat adds a whole new dimension to the meaning of the theatrical new wave: he sees himself not only as a playwright but as 'a writer of show’. That means taking a totalist approach to the job, where he devises text, sound, lighting and costumes, all at the same time. One of Pommerat's particularities is that he only directs his own texts. In 1990 he set up his company, Louis Brouillard, with, to start off with, a dedicated group of just seven actors. On the day of his 40th birthday, Pommerat made an ambitious commitment to staging a show with them every year for the next 40 years! The playwright and director gained recognition in 2004 for his reimagining of the fairy tale Pinocchio. This was followed by two other tales, Cinderella and then Little Red Riding Hood. Success followed for all Pommerat’s subsequent shows: La Réunification des Deux Corées, Ça Ira (1) Fin de Louis and Contes et Légendes.
Joël Pommerat is known for his dramas deeply rooted in the contemporary world, where he tackles issues of work, family, money, and much more. His shows push their audience to seek out the imaginary in our daily lives and then questions it by offering several perspectives on the same story.

How can you recognise the Joël Pommerat paw print? This is drama where all the senses are engaged and the visual effects are impressive. In all Joël Pommerat's works, spectators are invited to reflect on themes at the core of contemporary society.

© Getty / Carole Bellaiche / Contributeur

Yasmina Reza

Born to an Iranian-Russian father and a Hungarian mother, Yasmina Reza grew up in France, where she studied theatre and sociology. She began writing plays in 1997 with Conversations After a Burial, Winter Crossing and 'Art'. The latter two won Reza a Molière Award for Best Playwright. But her recognition goes far beyond France: the plays 'Art' and God of Carnage both won Britain’s prestigious Tony and Olivier Awards. It wasn’t long before all of her plays, novels and essays were translated, published and performed around the world. 'Art' alone has been translated 35 times and brought to life by some of the finest actors on international stages. It is believed to be the most performed contemporary French play outside of France.
Besides being a born wordsmith, Reza can count acting and screenwriting among her talents. She has acted onstage and in films and adapted some of her plays for the big screen. As if that wasn’t enough, she has also published novels and essays. Her 2016 novel Babylone won the Prix Renaudot literary prize. With four novels, 10 plays and five essays to her name, it’s fair to call Yasmina Reza a colossus of contemporary French literature.

How can you recognise the elegance of Yasmina Reza? Think contemporary characters depicted with brutal honesty: fears, foibles, warts and all! Her settings are often confined behind closed doors, where characters are keen to settle their scores and don’t hesitate to dish out a few home truths.

Translated from the French by Anna Livesey