Friday, 4 April 2008

Le theatre du Luxembourg- les marionnettes

Sure they seem very scary in the pictures at the front of the theatre. The old black and white pictures depicting the marionettes did more to scare children away then invite them in I thought. They had that creepy carnie look and feel to them.

I’d been hoping to see a puppet show with our kids. It’s so French, so Truffaut, like the scene from 400 coups. My kids, having been in France now for seven months, were game to see the show. My niece and nephew were unsure, but wanted to be with their cousins, so I finally convinced the young crowd to see the show with me. I was trying to avoid looking totally foolish seeing the show on my own. (We had a TV program with marionettes as a kid, and I totally adored it. I was excited that this type of entertainment was still being preserved in France. Hattie the Witch anyone?)

The theatre is located in the middle of Luxembourg garden which is a great place to spend an afternoon doing nothing but walking, sitting and watching. We wait in line to buy tickets and enter the theatre. It is a perfect size, small enough that everyone can see the stage, but big enough for kids to feel like they’re in the real deal. We sit on tiny little benches that have backs to them, they are very cute, like little elf benches. I was practically too long to fit comfortably. On the walls were pictures of some of the marionettes that we’d soon see behind the red velvet curtain. The first four rows are reserved for kids only, which I didn’t notice. By chance, the older two kids with me chose the fifth row where we had quite a good view. The two girls sat in the first row. I hoped the play wouldn’t be scary.

The puppeteer/ director/ owner occasionally chased parents holding young children out of the first four rows. Even those who appeared just before the curtain went up were kicked back to the adult rows, despite their indignant complaints and temporary non-compliance.

The curtains went up and I was so thrilled, and I still can’t explain exactly why. The colors of the set were rich and the marionettes truly came to life on the stage. The voices were easy to hear and understand (if you understand French a bit). Their costumes were festive and they manouvered around on stage so gracefully. They didn’t appear to be marionettes at all. No strings could be seen, and they danced, climbed, sword fought and fell very realistically.

I didn’t realize how fun and interactive the puppet play would be. At the beginning, the character Guignol asks the kids how they are, and the little audience roars out “ça va bien!” At one point the prince asks where the princess is, and the young earnest crowd belts out “dans le château!” in their most darling high pitched little French voices.

During the intermission, parents, grandparents and caretakers were filling their little ones full of sugar. I had the most absolutely adorable little curly toddler next to me. She (he?) was so fired up about the show, she kept talking about it. I asked her how the witch killed the prince and she exclaimed in all earnestness in her adorable little voice, “avec une baguette magique!” If you’ve ever heard a very young French child speak, you can imagine exactly what the Little Prince sounds like. It’s an impossibly beautiful lyrical sound. Of course, in France, the fairies (or witches) carry magic baguettes instead of magic wands.

I told Q and J sitting next to me that the second half should be even rowdier than the first with all the sugar that has been consumed in the theatre. Sure enough, the little curly top to my right was frantically shaking the bench in front with her (his) mouth all covered in chocolate, screeching at the curtains to open.
The curtains did indeed open and the show continued with a very creative set. I thought the set itself was stunning, so I can’t imagine how magical it must have been for the wee ones. The second half involved dancing elves, fire and smoke, and much more audience participation. When the mean witch was sneaking up behind someone, the little person next to me, along with forty others, would shout out anxiously, “attention!” , “attention!”

I totally loved it. My son was unwilling to admit it, but at nearly 10 years old, he frequently cracked up during the show. It’s something that must be done if you are in Paris with children. A very well presented play, French children in action, a fun theatre; these are the little bits of French culture I’m so happy to experience.

I spoke with the puppeteer/director afterwards and thanked him for such a great show. He said it’s been going on since 1933. His father started it, and now the business is his. I asked if there were other such theatres in Paris. While he admitted there were others, he said that his was “the vrai.”

To see the real thing, head to the Jardin de Luxembourg on Wednesdays at 3:30, and Saturdays and Sundays at 11:00 and 15:30. And don’t be scared off by the pictures out front. The play is quite delightful.


Starman said...

I can only imagine how wonderful it must be to be born and live in Paris. I'll bet most of them have no idea how lucky they are to be in the midst of all that culture and history and beauty.

Lydia said...

I, too, have seen the puppet show you describe and I loved it! I admit I went with a friend in college -- we didn't even bring any kids with us! It was great fun!