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Les Enfants du paradis BOURASSA ANDRE G



Il serait interessant d'avoir un son de cloche d'un de nos membres sur
cette adaptation a la scene du scenario de Marcel Carne. En voici pour
l'instant un compte rendu en anglais.
Andre G. Bourassa

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 6 Feb 1996 10:53:41 -0700
From: Eric Grace <esg@ISLANDNET.COM>

[...] review copied from today's New York Times.
Eric Grace
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February 6, 1996

London Theater: Refitting Large-Screen Classic Onto
Small Stage

By VINCENT CANBY

[L] ONDON -- Most flops are forgettable. A few drill
their way into the memory like a melody that won't
be dislodged by anything short of brain surgery.

Thus one of the more memorable events of the current
London theater season is "Les Enfants du Paradis," the
elaborate, dizzying, wrong-headed Royal Shakespeare
Company production that opened last Tuesday on the huge
main stage of the Barbican Center.

As misconceived stage ventures go, "Les Enfants du
Paradis" makes Broadway's "On the Waterfront" look like
a model of theatrical intelligence. Here is another
attempt to find the stage equivalent of a film classic,
in this case a film beloved for its spectacle, art and
Gallic spirit.

There are, or have been, other more highly regarded
offerings this season, especially the Royal National
Theater productions of David Hare's "Skylight" (not
playing now but due to travel to New York this year),
Bertolt Brecht's "Mother Courage and Her Children" and
Ben Jonson's "Volpone," as well as the Donmar
Warehouse's energizing revival of Stephen Sondheim's
"Company."

Yet it's "Les Enfants du Paradis" that is the news at
the moment. Among other things, it demonstrates that
state-subsidized theater companies can hold their edge
over commercial West End producers with their mistakes
as easily as they do with their successes.

The man behind "Les Enfants du Paradis" is Simon Callow,
who adapted the Jacques Prevert screenplay for Marcel
Carne's 1945 film and who went on to direct the
production. What, you have to wonder, did he think he
could bring to a stage adaptation that isn't better
realized in the film?

In an interview in The Daily Telegraph last week, Callow
noted that Carne made the film during "the mess" of the
Nazi occupation with the intention of celebrating "the
human heart." That's especially important today, he
said, in "a valueless world."

He also gave the interviewer the impression that he had
saved the film from a fate worse than death: "Lots of
people have been trying to write it into a musical, and
that seems to me to be a kind of hell."

Yet when his own dialogue doesn't sound like spoken
English subtitles, it sounds like song cues from "The
Phantom of the Opera." If you have fond memories of the
film, you had better steer clear of the play. If you
don't think highly of the film, this adaptation will
reinforce your reservation. It functions like a
guileless movie review.

The film is a panoramic, sumptuously mounted romantic
drama set in the milieu of the boulevard theaters of
early-19th-century Paris, the theaters of pantomime,
melodrama, vaudeville and knockabout farce. Its
narrative, however, is pure schlock, a series of
interlocking love stories including one so pure that
only the camera can trick you into briefly believing it.

This is also the work that helped to confer legendary
status on its stars: Jean-Louis Barrault as the mime
Baptiste, Arletty as the femme fatale she was in life.

If the close-up hadn't already been around, Carne would
have invented it to record Arletty's serenely enigmatic,
wanly superior angst. Yet it isn't the cast that carries
"Les Enfants du Paradis"; it's Carne's sense of
tumultuous time, place and movement, his vision of
life-as-theater and theater-as-life, his understanding
of high-toned cinema.

Take away the camera and all you have left is a very
long plot outline. This production is carried entirely
by a turntable.

Callow is the author of the recently published "Orson
Welles: The Road to Xanadu," the first installment of a
projected two-volume biography. He thinks big. His stage
adaptation runs 4 hours and 15 minutes, an hour longer
than the film. He has worked hard to put all (or most)
of the narrative on the stage, but he hasn't rethought
it to take advantage of the theater, to reveal the human
heart he means to be celebrating.

Just as his all-too-faithful script calls attention to
the film's shortcomings, his direction emphasizes almost
everything the stage cannot do. The set is a huge
skeletal structure that looks like a jungle gym for
giants. Inside are ramps, stairs and platforms that,
without conviction, represent theater interiors, seedy
hotel rooms, mansions, bars, dance halls and, at one
crucial point, a Turkish bath.

In a futile attempt to recreate cinematic movement, the
set is precariously placed on the Barbican's great
turntable, which, because of the many changes of scene,
moves at speed, seemingly nonstop and creaking like a
schooner under full sail.

The result of this crazed merry-go-round effect is a
certain confusion. It's the movie remembered in a lot of
bitty, unitalicized scenes, separated by crowd scenes of
tens upon tens, all viewed in a single, oppressive long
shot. It's also a bit too suspenseful, appearing to be
dangerous for the cast. The actors are further hampered
by being so far away from the audience and so dimly
lighted that it's not always possible to recognize them,
much less respond to their performances.

There were many empty seats after the intermission at
the performance I attended, but I should report that a
13-year-old in my company sat rapt from beginning to
end.

Things are a lot more upbeat at the Royal National
Theater, where turntables are also much in evidence,
though used less desperately. They make possible the
limpid, fluid stagings of both "Mother Courage" and
"Volpone," which have been playing in repertory with the
hit revival of Stephen Sondheim's "Little Night Music"
in the Olivier Theater. Though the Olivier is the
largest and most architecturally intimidating of the
Royal National's three theaters, it overwhelms neither
Brecht nor Jonson.

"Mother Courage" is helped by David Hare's
self-effacing, witty new adaptation and by the director
Jonathan Kent's use of the Olivier: a kind of spacious,
eerie calm now hangs over Brecht's scathing tale of war,
desolation and survival. The star is Diana Rigg, who
gives a full-throttle, actressy performance in the title
role.

Wearing simulated rags, her face perfectly smudged, she
hauls her cart through the Thirty Years War and somehow
manages to be simultaneously furious, funny and worth
listening to. She may not be the Mother Courage Brecht
would have chosen; he's reported to have wanted Ethel
Merman for an American production.

You might say that her star quality works as its own
distancing device. More accurately you might say that
here is a "Mother Courage" that ropes in members of the
bourgeoisie who have never heard of the Berliner
Ensemble.

Though Michael Gambon received the lion's share of the
notices for "Volpone" (which went out of the Olivier
repertory on Jan. 27), it was Simon Russell Beale who
stole the show the night I saw it. He's not a physically
imposing actor, being a little too tubby for some of the
classical roles he likes to play, but he was a
splendidly comic Moscha: alternately servile, aggressive
and thoroughly mean-spirited. Possibly because it was
near the end of the run, Gambon's performance looked as
lazy as the slack-jawed expression his Volpone always
adopted when conning still another greedy supplicant.

The director Matthew Warchus's use of the turntable
allowed the action to move from Volpone's bedroom to the
streets to the law courts and back to the bedroom
without a beat being missed. The production simulated
the speed of film without ever losing its stage
presence.

The Sam Mendes revival of "Company" has just closed at
the Donmar Warehouse, the 252-seat Off West End theater
of which Mendes is artistic director. Not to worry:
"Company" is transferring to the Albery in the West End
on March 7.

While light on scenic refinements, the Donmar production
rediscovered the exuberant life in the show that wasn't
always to be found in the recent Roundabout revival in
New York. Most crucial to the success of the production
was the performance of Adrian Lester as Bobby, who's
supposed to be the center of the show but who's a cipher
as written.

With the help of Mendes, Lester was in charge of this
"Company" from start to finish, largely because his
strong, no-nonsense, singing and dancing persona
commanded attention. He was terrific.

This has been a good season for the Donmar. Mendes's
production of "The Glass Menagerie" is now in the West
End, with Zoe Wanamaker starring as Amanda. Last week
the Arts Council came through with a one-time grant
that, with an even bigger corporate grant, will help
keep the theater solvent and open for another season.

In the meantime, Mendes is being touted as a likely
successor to Richard Eyre, who retires as the artistic
director of the Royal National at the end of the year.
But there's some doubt that he would take the job if it
were offered. Mendes is 30 (five years younger than
Bobby in "Company") and may not be ready to settle down
with the Establishment quite yet.


Copyright 1996 The New York Times Company

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End of QUEATRE Digest 173
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