After a few tumultuous years, Azurean theatres have (re)defined their identities. The result: an extraordinarily rich and interesting programme all around
Over the past few years, the leading theatres on the French Riviera experienced a lot of shakeup. Certain key players changed – in 2014, Daniel Benoin left Théâtre National de Nice for Anthéa in Antibes with many a diehard fan in his wake. Irina Brook, part rocker chick, part eco-warrior, filled his post at the TNN with the kind of poise and penchant that is her trademark, and injected a whole new sense of social and environmental awareness into the Niçois establishment, and the city’s younger crowd. Théâtre Francis Gag, while remaining reliably “mature”, has been pulling more and more surprises out of its hat, and Théâtre de la Cité in Nice is remerging from its self-seeking transitional phase with lots of experimentation on a shoestring budget. Add to that the current two-week-long Quinzaine des Théâtres festival which in its fourth year has firmly taken its place in the annual calendar, and you know why Nice is teeming with activity.
Further out, Théâtre de Grasse got a complete makeover during a long season of meandering from one small local town to the next, and in Cannes, the theatre scene has finally woken up and smelled the double espresso, and is catching up with lightning speed.
Maybe it was the sudden burst of raw energy, or the general disruption that governs our present times but the past four or five seasons occasionally seemed like hodgepodge programming with no red thread in sight. A great, eclectic, highly creative hodgepodge, but still one. If the 2017/18 season seemed the culmination of confusion, the 2018/19 sequel finally brings a sense of coherence and cohesion to the boards that mean the world.
Théâtre National de Nice
When mild-mannered Irina Brook promises a “blistering season”, you better take heed. On first inspection the programme appears familiar. Lots of peacenik flavors with nods to the environment, healthy living, and social justice, a good dose of circus and music, a series of by-now-well-beloved festivals, and a handful of classics. So far, so good – the formula has started to work, and the Niçois bourgeoisie has grown accustomed to the hippie aura wafting from the city’s marble Thespian temple.
But this year, there is a new layer of depth to the programme. While Irina still charms her way into the hearts of school kids, families, Gen Z, and even football fans, she also has something up her sleeve for those “têtes grises” (read, lovers of conventional theatre) that jumped on the Benoin bandwagon a few years ago by offering them more classics than ever. Molière! Tchekhov!! Flaubert!!! Dumas!!!! (Not even mentioning Shakespeare here who by now is part of the TNN DNA). Now, don’t expect any dusty, high-brow, Parisian-style “théââââtre” rendering of those authors… conventional theatre is not the Brook way of doing things. Rather, she unearths productions that reinterpret a classic in a fresh, creative take on it. If you remember her own adaptations of Peer Gynt or The Tempest… that’s what we mean. Music, fun, lights, and a tad of sex & rock’n’roll.
But, gasp! This year, there are even some really big brand names in the programme! If, sadly, the one we ALL are dying for to welcome back, Peter Brook, is not officially scheduled (although everyone is still rooting for a surprise appearance), the likes of Isabella Rossellini or Isabelle Adjani should help sweeten that loss. Otherwise, the crème de la crème of local names is represented, which is also refreshing to see. Prima inter pares, Eva Rami who is firmly on her way to grabbing a Molière nomination, but also everyone’s favorite clown Thomas Garcia and the uber-talented acrobat Joris Frigerio.
The Riviera Buzz TNN Picks
Link Link – Isabella Rossellini takes a witty and irreverent look at the animal world.
Opening Night – Isabella Adjani’s breathtaking autofiction where cinema meets theatre in an intense and intimate performance.
Roméo et Juliette – Irina Brook’s revisit of Shakespeare’s quintessential tragedy in an intimate, youthful and contemporary production, with a text more powerful than ever in her sharp and pared-down adaptation.
On ne badine pas avec l’amour – When Alfred de Musset meets strong-minded feminist George Sand in this creation that intertwines French Romanticism with African culture, love and laughter are in the air!
Centaurs, quand nous étions enfants – When Fabrice Melquit’s theatre meets equestrian art, we live a sublime moment in the company of centaurs!
On ne vole pas qu’avec des ailes – is a French-Syrian puppet play where Sufi tradition and electro music come together to deliver an enchanting show at the cross roads of cultures.
Requiem pour L. – is another cross-cultural event where Mozart meets Africa in a sensitive and creative musical gem that successfully transcends all barriers.
Vous n’aurez pas ma haine – Based on one man’s personal story in the face of the horrific events at the Bataclan in November 2015, this is a powerful tale of love triumphing over hatred.
Of course, there are many more coups de cœur shows, but impossible to list them all. As Irina says, « I hope you come here to really live something, to be captivated, to question, to open up to others….This is the place where each of you can rediscover what brings us together as humans… »
In the year of its fifth anniversary, the theatre under Daniel Benoin’s reign takes a moment to reflect on the milestone, to look back and to look forward. There is no doubt that Anthéa has written history as a theatre that beats visitor records season after season, that the greatest stage actors only too willingly flock to, and that has produced and co-produced some truly epic plays. In fact, Daniel Benoin has put his signature so firmly on the Anthéa brand that both have become synonymous and interchangeable.
While the past couple of seasons were a peek into Benoin’s massive Rolodex of great personal contacts, this new season is a bit more, let’s say… experimental. Sure, the playbill is still stuffed with A-listers like Gérard Depardieu, Véronique Sanson, Julie Gayet, Francis Huster or Viktor Laszlo, as well as premier companies like Comédie Française, Collectif 8 and Collectif La Machine (the latter two having been nurtured into national limelight by the maestro himself), but there are also new and discoveries that are well worth the trip to Antibes. “Renewal based in its own roots” is the well executed motto of this season.
The Riviera Buzz Anthea Picks
Le Château – No season is complete with at least one new Collectif 8 production, and 2018/19 is no exception. The prolific and prodigious company that invented the art form of cinéâtre delves deep into the dark and surreal universe of Kafka, no doubt presenting yet another masterpiece.
Tu te souviendras de moi is a play, directed by Daniel Benoin himself, that treats a taboo issue. Alzheimer’s. But no tragedy and sadness near or far… rather a celebration of life and happiness.
Don Giovanni – By now everyone knows that Benoin loves directing operas, and here he tackles Mozart, not without some trepidation but with lots of original ideas, far from his Don Juan in Nice a decade and a half ago.
La vie très horrifique vie du grand gargantua – when a play’s title is followed by the name Collectif La Machine, you know you have to book your seat early. This “immense pluridisciplinary and festive collection [of theatrical art]”, takes a good look at the child-king’s libertine infancy, not without a tacit reference to today’s narcissistic-hedonistic society.
Les Fourberies de Scapin – The venerable Comédie Française, the compass for all things Parisian, presents a fresh version of this Molière classic which has been described by critics as hilarious and elegant in equal measure.
Trois Femmes – When world-famous singer Viktor Laszlo interprets Billie Holliday, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, expect nothing short of pure magic.
Théâtre Francis Gag
Is there anyone left in Nice and all of PACA who does not yet know this theatre’s illustrious history? Ask any Niçois and you’ll find that it is part of their cultural DNA ever since the immortal Francis Gag founded its original version and contributed an amazing wealth of plays, texts, and artifacts to it. The succeeding generations were not sitting idle either…. Pierre-Louis Gag and Jean-Luc Gag, the founder’s son and grandson respectively, upheld the tradition. Over the past 30 odd years, director Pierre Ballay has been overseeing the theatre, watching both over the faithful preservation of heritage and the continuous creative development. Not an easy task by any means.
Except if you dip in your own gene pool. And that’s just what happened. In a grand premiere this new season features yet another Gag … Marie, the fourth generation of talented Gagliolos is presenting her first ever stage play!
The Riviera Buzz TFG picks, October through December
George et Alfred – If you’ve always been intrigued by George Sand’s tragic love affair with Alfred de Musset, this is the play that will let you take a deeper look at the immortal pair. A Festival d’Avignon favorite!
Francis Gag, Sempre – When you the venerable Niçois art lover and humanist’s talented great-granddaughter, you cannot help but writing about him. Marie Gag, all of 22 years old, did just that, and her DNA shines through. The play, written in Nissart language, is a joyous celebration of local tradition that even in 2018 is every bit as relevant and contemporary as it was a hundred years ago.
Théâtre de la Cité
This is the sort of catch-all stage where you can run into national cultural treasures, make the most unexpected discoveries, see burlesque at its finest, and generally just go with the flow. This season’s motto, “Audacity”, lives up to its claim. It expresses itself in the choice of shows with a socially meaningful theme, but also in the degree of luxurious playfulness this theatre under the direction of Thierry Surace ventures into. If you want to be surprised, in the best sense of the word, this is your go-to place.
The Riviera Buzz TdC picks
Flamenco – De Sevilla à Nueva York – Kaena Colora’s Flamenco is an annual staple at this theatre, and this season we welcome her back with a brand-new creation, retracing the footsteps of Federico Garcia Llorca, the great Andalusian poet and writer as he travels from Seville to New York, from Havana to Buenos Aires.
Bateleur – Clement Althaus! Need we say more?! One of the most talented musicians of his generation, he is the go-to sound artist for the likes of Collectif 8. Here, he presents his own show which is an inspiring piece of musical storytelling and a feat for the ears as much as for the eyes.
Joséphine Baker by Jussanam, an up and coming Brazilian-Icelandic singer/songwriter based on the French Riviera. Her narrative of the musical legend’s life is part of the Carte Blanche series which provides local talent stage to present their work.
Théâtre de Grasse
After a difficult season on the road due to extensive top to bottom renovation of the TdG premises, director Jean Flores has made it his mission to prove to his local audience that the long wait was well worth it. The 2018/19 programme his splendidly refurbished new theatre has in stall is bigger, better, stronger and more audacious than ever. Regulars are already used to the eclectic flavors, from Indian dance to African music, but this year the TdG is kicking it up yet another notch. A true celebration of life, diversity, and inclusion – and a novelty: for the first time in its long history, the theatre throws its name, support, and financial means behind two specific emerging talents… and women artists to boot! Keep an eye on choreographer Marion Lévy and circus artist Charlène Dray throughout the season as they grow and blossom in their careers.
The Riviera Buzz TdG picks
Sadly by the time of press, one of the most spectacular concerts of the entire 2018/19 season on the French Riviera is already behind us: Rokia Traoré. For those in the know, they surely will have seen her on stage. For anyone else, make sure you never miss another show by this world-class Malian singer who like no other bridges continents, culture, and style.
Cão sem plumas – Brazilian choreographer Deborah Colker, whose acclaim includes Cirque de Soleil and the Rio Olympics opening ceremony, lets 13 dancers paint an artistic image of her home country where visuals, poetry, music, and classic, contemporary and popular movements intermingle with past, present, and future.
Les Ragas de l’Après-Midi – Anyone who has ever followed the TdG’s programme knows that its director Jean Flores is enamoured with Indian music. Find out why in this extraordinary concert.
La Mouette de Tchekhov – When Marguerite Dumas adapts a classic, and that adaptation is the base of Jérôme Goudour’s re-interpretation, you know you are in for a treat that is as intellectual as it was meant and as contemporary and funny as it can get.
La Fabuleuse Histoire d’Edmond Rostand! – Yes, you’ve seen Cyrano de Bergerac in 345 different adaptations. But do you know anything about its author’s history? In this sensational one-man-show, Philippe Car inhabits more than 40 different personalities as he takes a closer look at the writer and his immortal œuvre.
Le Grand Orchestre de Poche – Oh, how do we love him, let us count the ways? Thomas Garcia has to be one of the region’s most popular and favorite artists. After his tremendous success as Monsieur Mouche he is back with a new, delightfully comedic show you simply cannot afford to miss. This show is also on at TNN and TFG this season, so if you cannot make one, be sure you catch the other.
La Vie Devant Soi – In France, Niçois author Romain Gary is a household name, one who knew how to weave local interest into topics that moved the world. When an acclaimed director like Simon Delattre adapts his texts and presents them as a puppet play you know you are in for a delicious surprise.
Sansom et Dalila – In the Opera department we really had a problem picking a favorite, so we had to let a straw decide … and it was this one that won out to La Traviate, Carmen and La Walkyrie. Of course, as an opera lover, you will see all of them but our recommendation to the interested novice is still the one picked by sheer accident.
Cannes: Of Unicorns and Other Fabled Creatures
If this year Cannes makes its inaugural appearance in this review, it’s for good reason. In the town that is home to the world famous Festival de Cinéma, stage craft has often taken a back seat to celluloid. But Cannes’ ever-innovating, ever-dynamic mayor David Lisnard wanted to change that, and that is what is happening. With city councilor Thomas de Pariente as the driving force, Cannes is starting to build a varied and high-quality performing theatre programme to complement its already strong music and dance offering.
Two venues (Théâtre de la Licorne and Théâtre Alexandre III) share the bulk of the cultural load, other offsite locations like Théâtre Croisette and Villa Domergue pitch in on occasions. The Licorne (“Unicorn”) specifically targets children, youth, and families, while the others present plays, concerts and dance for a general audience. And rumour has it that there are activities underway right now to create an international theatre in foreign languages, how cool is that?
The Riviera Buzz Cannes picks
Festival P’tits Cannes à You – from 19 October to 3 November is the annual festival for kids aged 3 to 103 that has been a hit since its inception in 2005. Family and budget friendly, it is a veritable firework of playful artistic events including theatre, cinema, circus, puppet shows, storytelling, dance and workshops during the fall school holidays. This year it also offers the opportunity to discover the newly made-over Théâtre de la Licorne in Cannes La Bocca, which serves not only as a cultural main staple but also reinforces the mayor’s policy to revive neighborhoods off the beaten path.
Les Jeudis du Jazz – in this loose series of Thursday night musical events, you are apt to unearth more than one hidden gem: Lou Tavano, Camille Bertault, or Alfa Mist to name but a few who will step on stage these coming months.
Special Mention: Quinzaine des Théâtres, Nice
No early-season round-up of theatre events is complete without a nod to Jean-Luc Gagliolo’s two-week festival of all things Thespian in Nice. Held from October 15 through 28 this year, it showcases yet again the incredible breadth and depth the region has to offer. 51 shows across 21 theatres from Nice and its suburbs participate in this edition, and a rich side programme jam-packed with conferences, master classes, public rehearsals, and meetings with the artists allow visitors a peek behind the curtain.
The Riviera Buzz QdT picks
With only room for three out of so many fabulous shows, we have to go with vox populi and choose those that will surely be the crowd favorites:
Une Rencontre Extraordinaire – is a charming tale for young and less young alike, told by Isabelle Servol under Alain Joutard’s musical direction, that playfully embarks on big themes like respect for nature and the environment.
Personne au bord de ta Route – written and solo-performed by Sophie Tournier and directed by Christophe Turgie, examines a decisive moment in a woman’s life, caught between her past and her future, trying to preserve her dignity and humanity in the face of adversity.
La Folle Jeunesse de Catherine de Médicis – Frédéric Rey’s Commedia dell’Arte has known roaring success in Nice these past few years. In this rambunctious play, the spectator gets a peek into the life of the adolescent Florentine noblewoman who would eventually become Queen of France. Let the masks fall where they may.
A uniquely rich, dense, and quality season of theatre is underway. A season that banks less on tragedy, concern and confrontation, and more on shared values, tolerance, and pragmatic use of lessons learned. A kinder, gentler season that puts entertainment back centre stage without veering toward the superficial. A beautiful and doubtlessly memorable season, thanks to all our local and regional directors, actors, and cultural decision makers.
Lead image courtesy Théâtre Francis Gag; photo of Irina Brook © Gaëlle Simon