le bourgeois gentilhomme

Compagnie La Fidèle Idée, Nantes

Venue: Clair Vivre, La Chapelle Neuve, Brittany

Date: 3 June 2022

Evening is settling over the hills and meadows that separate the forests of Camors and Floranges from the meandering valley of the Blavet River in south Brittany.  This is a world far removed from the neighbouring medieval towns of Vannes and Auray on the Golfe du Morbihan or the city of Rennes an hour away; they are on an entirely different planet from the court of King Louis XIV at the Château de Chambord in the Loire Valley and the theatre of the Palais-Royal in Paris, where, in 1670, Molière first presented his uproarious comedy of manners Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme.

Interspersed with music, song, dance and acute social commentary, Molière’s wickedly subversive plays were patronised by the aristocracy and adored by royalty and courtiers. Drawing inspiration from his upbringing in the affluent Parisien milieu, he is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest writers in the French language.

He remains regarded as the artist-in-residence of the magnificent Comédie Française within the Palais-Royal complex, still familiarly known as la Maison de Molière because of its historic association with his troupe of actors who made it their artistic home.

A large banner across the Mairie of our little town of La Chapelle Neuve announces the imminent arrival of an open-air production of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. One could only speculate on how the presentation of such a play would go down in this unlikely rural setting. Only one way of finding out.

After two years of Covid lockdown, the Nantes-based theatre company La Fidèle Idée is out on the road, to the delight of small communities for whom access to top quality live performance is limited.

The company has dusted down a successful production by its artistic director Guillaume Gatteau and has breathed fresh life into it in a variety of unconventional provincial surroundings.

Molière is the acknowledged master of social comedy, poking sharp-witted fun at many instantly recognisable human stereotypes – the hypocrite, the hypochondriac, the miser, the misogynist and, here, the puffed-up social climber.

Philippe Bodet is suave and slick as Monsieur Jourdain, a middle-class businessman who longs to be an aristocrat. He sticks out like a square peg in a round hole, his cruel self-importance prompting hostility and derision from those around him.

While the other members of the excellent cast are cleverly costumed in generic black suits and neon-coloured shirts, indicating their mundane, anonymous social status, Bodet is resplendent in wide-legged, striped trousers, floral print shirt and natty blazer.  His attire and his bearing say it all. He thinks he looks marvellous. In reality, he looks ridiculous.

He strides ‘on stage’ through a farmhouse door into an orchard where the assembled audience awaits the first half of this semi-promenade production. In the company of a talented troupe of physical theatre performers, led in the second half by Sophie Renou as his long-suffering wife, we follow the action through the farmyard, into a timber-framed barn and across a vast meadow, where a circle of seats is arranged.

The cast rises to the occasion with aplomb, clearly relishing both the picturesque environment and the reactions of the large gathering to the surreal twists and turns of the unfolding comedy. The finale sees an affronted Jourdain striding away into the sunset, disappearing into the far distance as the laughter level rises behind him.

It is an unexpected pleasure to find ourselves in the company of a polished presentation of one of the greatest comic plays ever written. Huge congratulations are due to La Fidele Idee for stepping out of its urban comfort zone and treating audiences in la France profonde to the rare privilege of top-notch live performance.

Here’s to the next time.

Cast:

Philippe Bodet : Monsieur Jourdain; Sophie Renou : Madame Jourdain; Delphy Murzeau : Lucile Jourdain – Élève du maître de musique – Chanteur du banquet; Florence Gerondeau :  Nicole – Chanteur du banquet; Emmanuelle Briffaud : Maitre de musique – Dorimène; Arnaud Menard : Maître tailleur – Cléonte – Chanteur du banquet; Hélori Philippot : Maître à danser – Covielle – Chanteur du banquet; Frederic Louineau : Maître d’armes – Dorante; Gilles Gelgon:  Maître de Philosophie – Chanteur du banquet.

Metteur en scène / director: Guillaume Gatteau

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