London really is a city full of multicultural events and artistic possibilities, and if you are even remotely interested in the arts there will most definitely be something you like, whether it is Shakespeare and his contemporaries, new innovative theatre, puppetry or foreign-language performances. The latter proved hugely successful last year at the Globe with its Globe to Globe festival, but it’s not only the Bard who attracts practitioners from other languages.
The Cockpit Theatre is hosting an event of French-language performances this autumn and opened with Molière’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (The Bourgeois Gentleman).
Mr. Jourdain is a middle-aged ‘Bourgeois’ – the wealthy middle-class – who wishes to rise above his social class and become a nobleman. He takes classes in music, dancing and fencing to become more like the aristocrats and dreams of marrying a Marchioness, Dorienne, even though he is already married. When his daughter Lucile wants to marry the middle-class Cléonte, Jourdain refuses and insists she marries a nobleman. Cléonte then disguises himself as a Turkish prince and convinces Jourdain that if he marries his daughter, Jourdain will be officially ennobled at a special ceremony. In Molière’s France a ‘gentleman’ was, by definition, nobly born, and it is therefore impossible for Jourdain to achieve his dream of becoming an aristocrat. He constantly makes a fool of himself, and those around are ready to use and abuse him in his silly attempts to climb the social ladder.
As Voila! suggests in its marketing, Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme is in French. It attracts a French-speaking audience, but don’t let the language barrier frighten you if you have no knowledge of French and the only phrases you can construct are inappropriate song lyrics from Moulin Rouge. As with the Globe’s foreign-language Shakespeare, a lot lies in the direction and clarity of performance. The company, Tour de Force, has a great ensemble of actors who deliver the story with such clarity and commitment that you do actually get a very detailed sense of the play. All actors, except Sean Rees (Jourdain), double characters and it is their physicality and energy that drive the piece. There is a lot of slapstick comedy and the play works brilliantly for children as well (especially if they are learning French).
The set is very simple and almost childlike, and the play therefore slightly resembles a children’s dress-up. However lots of fun is being had with costumes and modern associations like a hoover with a life of its own. Peter Joucla’s direction focuses on the fun and farce of Molière and a feeling of bringing an audience together linked by language. It is no surprise that Molière thrives in the original language and the tone suits the ridiculousness of the story perfectly. That said it doesn’t hurt if you do have some knowledge of French – the piece is more an overall impression and feel of physicality and intonation without the colouring of the words. So if you want to brush up on your French or are a native lost in London, go catch the Voila! event. It does bring a sense of togetherness and a different culture to be explored on stage as well as with your fellow audience members.
Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme is playing at The Cockpit Theatre until 1 November. Voila! is on until 10 November. For more information and tickets, see the Cockpit Theatre website.