Posts Tagged ‘French’

A New Year, A New Play

December 9, 2018

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Having two relatively succesful (Corbyn Island and A Door Should Be Open or Shut) Festival productions under my belt emboldened me to propose to the Crouch End Players committee that we should put on a version of a full length French classic. Seeing a production of Marivaux’s Le Jeu de l’Amour et du Hasard at the Théâtre Saint Martin earlier this year inspired me to tackle another of his plays.

Le Jeu de l’Amour at the Porte Martin, played in a style that Marivaux would have recognised, was outstanding. I had no intention of competing with the French on their own turf. No, I felt that I had to find a way of presenting his work that made it resonate with a contemporary London audience but wasn’t as directly political (or sweary, we’re looking for a larger audience after all) as our update of L’Ile des Esclaves.

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At first glance Les Fausses Confidences – in which a penniless young man who has fallen in love with a rich widow attempts to scheme his way into her heart – can seem a distinctly queasy proposition in these #MeToo (or #balancetonporc) times. To be blunt the way in which the leading man and his ex-valet scheme to serve his master’s interests, if entertaining, is nevertheless difficult to approve of. ‘His rampant mendancity has little jusitification.’ * For some critics, no matter how much they admired Marivaux as a writer such dubious morals ‘gâte toute la pièce’ or ruin the whole play. **

How to get around such a flawed leading man? By updating the action to 1919 and making him a serviceman recently returned from the Great War – our version is called A Soldier’s Song – I hope to have given a psychological motivation for such iniquitous behaviour. Hector (renamed from Dorante in the original) has developed an obsession for Harriet (Araminte, now a wealthy widow and music hall performer) for reasons that are hinted at though never over-explained during the course of the plot, thus elevating him from the rather amoral schemer of the eighteenth century original. Music buffs may also see the resonance in French culture of having a Hector obessed with a Harriet.

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Hector Berlioz – not a stranger to romantic obsession

And to my delight when I discussed the play with the director Victoria Welsh she took on this idea further, situating the play in a much more radical staging than I had envisaged that will reference the original Marivaux production by the Comédie-Italienne that will allow us to see Hector as just as much manipulated as manipulator. But more of that as I trace the development of the production over the forthcoming months.

We are in the process of auditions at the moment and my next blog post will be to give my own take on that process, which was entirely new to me. (Casts for previous shows, excellent though they proved to be, were assembled from the resources available rather than via the luxury of selection). The show will be happening in the last week of March 2019 at the Moravian Church Hall on Park Road, N8. If you’ve read this far please do come along and say hello. Or if you have staged or watched Marivaux yourself I’d really welcome comments and questions on your own experience of Les Fausses Confidences.

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My research into other adaptations, purely to see what had been done recently on the British stage, led me to a version that foreshadows a piece that the Crouch End Players will also produce later in the year. In 1983 Timberlake Wertenbaker translated the play pretty much straight for a production at the Lyric, Hammersmith, giving it the title False Admissions. In the autumn the CEPs will stage Our Country’s Good, her account of Thomas Kennealy’s novel The Playmaker, which concerns a group of officers and convicts putting on a play in colonial Australia. Which goes to show that the Players have a wonderfully diverse repertoire to offer the public in 2018.

* Kenneth McKee, The Theater of Marivaux (Peter Own: London, 1958), p. 211.

** Edouard Thierry, La Revue de France, March15th, 1881.

Resto 39 Brooklyn Pizzeria, Bastille

November 8, 2018

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Let’s put it out there straight away – Pizzeria Brooklyn is the kind of tourist trap that I would normally avoid. But with an appointment with an Opera we needed food in Bastille quick. PB delivered on that, in fact in terms of food it overdelivered.

But everywhere else it didn’t. Let’s do the food first. We got veggie antipasti up front and it was very good – a generous helping of autumny veg. The pizzas (we got the MBappé specials in honour of the great man) were excellent and massive. I now know what a pizza pie is – it’s a puff pizza with deliciously moist dough which when you pierce it with a knife let’s out a column of steam to reveal its meaty tomato guts. But I’d been walking all day and I still couldn’t finish it – we should have got one to share. House white was bland but drinkable (and cheap, it’s France after all).

The room was set up for Instagram – a pizza oven with something sloganned on it. Bits and pieces of vaguely New Yorky stuff around and a soundtrack of things I wish I didn’t know the tune to from the 1980s. And the bogs! Who would not get rajjed having to take a leak with the legend, ‘Keep calm and eat pizza’ drilling into their eyeballs?

Well, people who like to take selfies in front of food, pictures of their food (the pizzas were square (so wonderfully Instagrammable), wonky pictures of pizza ovens and selfies with pizza ovens. They love that shit. No wonder the staff had all the chaleur of a late night petrol pump attendant.

Did I say the pizza was good?

5/10

#Food #Paris

To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap

Resto 38 L’Aubergeade, 11th Paris

November 7, 2018

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A late arrival in Paris and we wanted to eat local. I had a hankering for Cambodian but there was none of that going on near us so we chose L’Aubergeade on the basis that it looked like a friendly. Good instincts.

It was empty when we arrived at 7 but it didn’t take us longo to realize that we were lucky to have got a table. The next time I looked round I was being handed a menu and the place was full.

The menu is nose to tail rustic French stuff. Up front James chose veal head and I chose mushrooms but what’s this? A sinister amount of egg on the mushroom meaning we had to swap plates. I have to say that eating tête de veau isn’t something I’ll do again in a hurry. The meaty bits were ok but the gluey bits were … gluey. No amount of piquant sauce could hide that fact. But if you’re an aficianado of that kind of thing I guess you’ll have booked a table already.

Main was a more conventional swordfish steak with cheese-creamed rice. That hit the spot on a cold damp autumn night. As did the Anjou red it rolled in with. But not the affogato dessert. This was a mug of whipped cream and not enough coffee.

Which was a shame as the cooking is obviously skilled and popular with the locals. I should have trusted my instincts and just rounded off with a coffee rather than indulging in the sweetness. I’d definitely go back but with a more rigorous eye for what works for my palate.

7/10

#Food #Paris

To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap

Resto 37 Bon Vivant, Bloomsbury

October 29, 2018

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Where does one go when one’s just staggered out of Jean Cocteau’s Orphée wondering ‘What the f*** was going in that thing?’ French I guess, to keep the vibe going. Not too far either if it’s the coldest day of the year and you’ve got a stinking manflu. So we went to Bon Vivant, which has replaced a perfectly good Italian on the corner of Marchmont Street, something I’d slightly held against it when walking past previously.

But rarely does London stay still and BV does a good job of imitating a standard French bistrot. A pungently good French soup worked wonders as a starter. Despite being in the grip of  la grippe mâle. I could taste the garlic and got a good fishy slap around the chops to boot. The Viognier fared less well against such a blast of flavour, I should have picked a red. Good bread kept us going while we waited for the next round.

For main a confit duck leg was good without being to slaver for and came with death by spuds (one of The Fall’s B-sides compilations) but not by vegetables. Some frizzy lettuce made like tumbleweed across the plate before I pronged it and scoffed it. A sticky red wine sauce was excellent, as was the service.

The room was empty when we arrived at 6 on a Sunday but it soon started to fill up with mostly visitors to these shores. The music was all over the place, starting Europoppy and then moving onto to something more soporific. Except for the volume which always stayed just the wrong side of discreet. I could have done with some Georges Delerue, or indeed to keep with the Orpheé theme, some Georges Auric. And what the pre-pubescent boy at the next table made of the rather lascivious décor in the ‘powder room’ I’ve no idea but it wasn’t to my taste. The food, on the other hand, was. Next time I’ll order me own légumes.

7/10

#Food #London

To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap

Resto 29 Café Populaire, Rouen

September 2, 2018

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After a morning at the Joan of Arc Experience I was in the mood for a barbecue. Just kidding! No, we were looking for something for lunch less obviously touristy than the previous evening so we gravitated towards the less picturesque side of town. Café Populaire is a pop up located next to a pleasant square beside a modern shopping centre. The whole square is surrounded by restaurants but I liked the look of CP’s terrace so we plonked out front and looked at the menu.

Not all architectural glories are Gothic in Rouen

Again, this was classic bistrot fare and being less ravenous we opted for a single course each. Onglet is always a risky pick. It can be a mouth-wateringly flavoursome, if slightly gristly, cut. More often in my experience you’d need jaws like Mrs Woof to get through a whole onglet, which is why I’ll never eat in Café Rouge again. But I trusted the folks in Rouen as the menu stated that all meat was sourced locally, and having seen a whole shop earlier that day dedicated to Normandy beef I expected high standards.

My confidence was repaid handsomely. It was a high class lump, yeah there was a bit of gristle but the flesh was generous and tasty. Alongside some spuds but I regretted not having ordered a side salad. To drink there was local cider on offer but I stuck to a glass of red.

Service was very good given that there was soon a good crowd of diners (mostly locals) reaching all the way down into the square and it was a joy to enjoy late summer sunshine and watch the Rouennais go by. I hope they convert the pop up into a permanent establishment. In the slim chance that I’ll be in Rouen again I would go back for an evening service.

8/10

#Food #Rouen

To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap

Resto 28 Le Bistroquet Chez Cédric, Rouen

September 2, 2018

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A testing day once more on the Eurostar – this time because we were two minutes late for check-in and therefore had to wait four hours for the next train to Paris. And cough up 88 quid for the privilege. In fact they fleeced us so swiftly at St Pancras that we still would have had twenty minutes to board our original train. Instead we had to kill four hours in the rain having got up at 6 o’clock in the morning.

I used to be able to tell people that despite its savage reputation I had never been mugged in London. No more. Fortunately the staff at Gare St Lazare were much more accommodating and gave us a fresh ticket for the connection to Rouen at no further cost.

Thus by the time we got to Rouen we were in the mood for prodigious grub and wine. The cathedral in Rouen is open gratifyingly late (until 7 p.m.) so we had a quick pop in there before scouring for food. Le Bistroquet is on a touristy strip of restos right next to the Eglise Saint Maclou.

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Rouen is blessed with a surfeit of Gothic Beauty. While the room at the back of Le B seemed more convivial, packed with locals in fact, the rather less busy space at the front had the advantage of the view of St M so we were glad when the waitress seated us there. I guess if you’re Rouennaise you take that shit for granted.

The menu is typical French fare with a bias towards local produce – exactly what I was looking for. Up front I thought I’d ordered pigs’ innards but what I got was terrine. I wasn’t complaining though, it was a lumpy lumpy of chunky with cornichons which had fresh bread alongside with which to transport it to my mouthole. A main of pollock was good as well but not as good as the king-size chicken leg across the way. We rounded it off with a heavy dosage of Neuchâtel cheese and with a red burgundy to help it down the problems of the a.m. were a distant memory.

Service was efficient without being especially outstanding. I’m assuming it was Cédric of Chez Cédric who ruled corpulently over the room. He seemed a character. I liked Le B, especially when the bill came in at a surprisingly moderate 60-odd euros. The ability of good food, wine and company to assuage middle class woes is something that I am very aware of and never take for granted.

7/10

#Food #Rouen

To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap

Musset update!

August 6, 2018

New Writing Image for Programme

Doing a bit of housekeeping on the homepage I noticed that last year I put a copy of the script for the festival on the Corbyn Island post. So if you want to download this year’s Musset translation click A Door (Should Be Open Or Shut).

If you’re interested in producing the play please contact me at geoffreylevett@me.com

Resto 20 Au Cadrans du PLM, Paris

July 10, 2018

Au Cadrans was not my first option when I found myself stuck at Gare de Lyon in a state of travel fretfulness.* But there was no room in Le Train Bleu (the woman said, it could be that she didn’t like the look of me) and so I had to find an alternative.

Au C is directly opposite G du L so ideal if you have an hour to kill between trains. Quelle pause! It was worth the Eurostar turmoil just for this 50 minute pit stop of Parisian pleasure. Professional waiter, cold beer, massive salad with big lumps of salty goat cheese. Sanity restored. The clientele a good mix of locals, French tourists and overseas visitors sitting together on a tranquil terrasse.

Recommended.

8/10

#Food #Paris

To see where else I’ve eaten go to the GoogleMap

* 2 1/2 hour delay on the Eurostar, rail strike in Paris, heat wave in full force, busiest travel weekend in France, France v Uruguay quarter final. Thank god I was travelling alone and not with children.

Translating Musset

June 3, 2018

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After having had a pretty good experience producing Corbyn Island in 2017 I found myself in the dull gloom of January turning over ideas for the Crouch End Festival in 2018. Again, it being a Festival piece, I wanted something relatively short and preferably fewer characters than the Island. If I was going to be directing it myself (a new experience) I thought it’d be a lot easier with less traffic to manoeuvre on stage.

I’d seen a production of Alfred de Musset’s Il Faut Qu’une Porte Soit Ouverte ou Fermée in Paris the previous autumn in a production by the Comédie Française. A one act two-hander, it concerned itself with an on-off relationship between two French aristocrats at a Parisian salon in the 1840s. The CF had updated it to contemporary France, setting the actor in a sculptor’s studio, while retaining (naturellement!) the original language of Musset’s masterpiece.

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Musset’s Confession – a classic of romantic literature

Further research revealed that de Musset hadn’t written the piece with the intention of staging it at all – rather it was theatre de fauteuil, that is ‘armchair theatre’ written to be read as a literary piece like a novel or a short story. But it had become established as a classic of the French theatrical repertoire by the end of the twentieth century, produced every year by the Comédie Française to the extent that it was part of the social calendar in the early twentieth century.

However, post-World War Two it was performed much less frequently. Presumably the market for rom coms about brittle aristocrats was in decline in the age of Camus, the theatre of the absurd and existentialism. In fact I beleive that the production that we saw was the first at the Comédie Française for some forty years.

So my challenge was how to make it relevant to a Crouch End Festival audience. My initial instinct was to make the couple same sex but to wangle Musset’s text into the correct shape to do that proved beyond my translation abilities. I gave it a few hours of grappling on the commute to Leicester and then gave up.

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The tool’s of the translator’s craft – a biography, an autobiography and a Pléiade edition of the original. All that’s missing is the Chamber’s dictionary.

I then toyed with the idea of just translating de Musset’s original and staging it as a work of art. I would designate a chair in the Great Northern for people to read a printed translation of the play which they could borrow from the bar. But then if I was going to the trouble of translating the play (a much simpler business than tackling Marivaux, though with the peril of ruining the exquisite poetry of de Musset’s language) I did rather see it acted out.

So I needed to find some other way to create tension in the potential pairing (or not) of these two characters. And I think I came up with a good solution. But to find out what that solution was you’ll have to come along to the show!

But I can tell you that I updated the action to 1948 London, with the characters now meeting in a private club on a wet Sunday afternoon.* I’ve added a third character of a barman, played by Ruari Johnson. The female lead is taken by the director of Corbyn Island, Anna Rogers, and a newcomer, Matt Griffin, takes on the role of her suitor.

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Part of the fun of staging a period piece is assembling (and drinking) the props.

This year we’re producing the show as part of the Crouch End Players’ contribution to the Festival with our show running with an original piece of writing by Jen Richardson, The Road Not Taken, as part of a rom-com double bill. Running time will be around an hour in total with a break for drinks.

Performances are again in the upstairs bar of the Great Northern Railway Tavern, who have once more proved to be excellent hosts, and take place on 15th, 16th and 17th June 2018 at 7pm and tickets (which are FREE!) can be obtained by emailing crouchendplayers@hotmail.com. More details are also available at the Festival website.

It’ll be the perfect evening out for World Cup widows and widowers but if you are a football fan don’t worry, the Great Northern will have the games on the big screen in their back garden and the shows are timed to make sure that you miss very little of the action from Neymar and his chums!

#Theatre #Comedy #London

*Yes, I know this has shades of Absolute Hell! But our production has an entirely different sensibility.

Resto 7 Bistrot de la Porte Dorée, Paris

March 1, 2018

After a morning in the rather wonderful Museum of Immigration in Porte Dorée (worth visiting for both building and contents) we were famished. I’d scouted out Le Swann as the place to go in PD but that was shut so Bistrot de la Porte Dorée was our fall back option. And what an option.

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To walk through the door was to enter a world that you’d find it very hard to find in the hipster fleshpots of the Marais or République. I suspected it would turn out to be an excellent lunch when the maitre d’ turned round sporting a burgundy shirt matched with a diagonally striped grey silk tie of which Doug Mountjoy in his pomp (c. 1978) would have been proud.

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Doug Mountjoy. Welsh legend.

We were shown to a table beneath a kitsch version of a Dutch still life of fruits de mer and various other foods. Dotted around the room were portraits of legends of French chanson and film (Jonny Hallyday’s look was particularly fierce, he seemed to be giving me the gimlet the whole meal through) and the odd transatlantic icon, such as Bob Marley smoking a joint, thrown in for good measure.

A set menu was on offer, €32 for two courses and €41 for three, wine included. Bargain, especially as an apéritif of something pink and fizzy was part of the deal. The food was classic French stuff, making no concession to the past 40 years of culinary fashion and none the worse for that. With the apéro we munched on toast and pâté de maison and considered.

I went for a starter of beef cheek, always a favourite. A generous amount of cheek paired with a lentil salad and carrots. All good, apart from the carrots which were overly salted for my taste. A full-bodied 2009 Gaillac helped that down admirably and proved to be a more than adequate match for a main of rabbit and pasta. Did we want dessert? Yes, but we also wanted to be able to walk the half an hour to the Château de Vincennes so we just had a coffee instead.

So the food was good but the real joy of the room was the people watching. Our waiter, not a young man, had a plaited rat-tail beard of the kind found on superannuated trustafarians yet to reintegrate back into civvy street. Across the way a party of eight or so retirees consumed their lunches while arguing vociferously about politics. And to our left a lone lady of a certain age with improbably jet black hair demolished a bottle of rosé in single combat.

A bill of €70 was a bargain and the reason why I’ll never go back to the Bistrot de la Porte Dorée is that some memories are too good to disturb with fresh layers of experience. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go, you should.

9/10

#food #Paris

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016-18 check out my GoogleMap


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