views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Pierrot Lunaire
Bridewell Theatre
19th August 2015


Photography provided by Bridewell Theatre

For a mere 40-minute show, Pierrot Lunaire sure does pack a lot in. A governess (Audrey L'Ebrellec) is trying to teach a young English boy (Gabriel Wood) how to speak French. He's not exactly an ideal pupil, playing with his toy piano, looking in the other direction and obstinately shouting "Je ne comprends pas", stressing every syllable and failing to make a liaison between the first two words. When he finds her hidden book of poetry, Albert Giraud's Pierrot Lunaire, finally the boy starts demonstrating an interest in the governess's language and his behaviour starts to improve. Teaching poetry to the boy is hard, it reminds the woman of her dead brother, who aspired to be a famous poet like Giraud and tragically never made it. Visions of her sibling appear to her in the form of Giraud's protagonist Pierrot (Jan Wood), who is essentially the typical sad French clown.

Personally, I adored Théâtre Volière's adaptation of Pierrot Lunaire and thought it was a stunning piece of theatre and deeply intelligent, however it's admittedly not that accessible. The plot isn't intuitive to follow, there's very little English and for that matter, there's very little French either. Ignoring Giraud's poetry, the dialogue is sparse, with the story conveyed through the emotions captured in his writings and through the medium of dance rather than spoken narration. It's just poetry and movement. Louis Bera and Paul Meyr are credited with adapting the poet's work rather than with writing a brand new framework, which probably gives an indication as to how nebulous the storyline is. Everything is constructed around a selection of Giraud's poems.

In many ways, Pierrot Lunaire is certainly quite a cerebral piece. However, there's nothing wrong with theatre which challenges you and makes you work that little bit harder to understand it. And for those of you who need some more motivation, Pierrot Lunaire is running as part of Bridewell Theatre's lunchbox programme, so every time you feel like you've understood the intention behind a scene, have some cake. Exceptionally, this is one show where you are encouraged to bring your own snacks and you can get through a lot of cake in the time given.

Rita Colombe's costumes firmly place our protagonists towards the end of the 19th century, which is helpful given the largely sparse set, made up of striking red curtains and wooden boxes. It's the clothing which gives us the first nudge, with the poetry reinforcing the period. The choreography by Bera, Wood and the rest of the company is well-considered, capturing the playful dynamic between the governess and Pierrot, the shared sadness of the governess and the boy, and the tragedy of Pierrot. Both L'Ebrellec and Wood put in very physical performances.

As an insert to the programme, the company provide us with a list of the 13 poems used, together with English translations by Mick Wood, allowing you to reflect more fully on Pierrot Lunaire after the fact. I would encourage you not only to see this show if you can get to Bridewell Theatre during your lunch break, but to take the time to enjoy those poems afterwards as they are all incredibly poignant. Absinthe and downward spiral aside, there's a reason Giraud was celebrated and the governess's brother wasn't. Do remind yourself of this in whichever language you're more comfortable with; you have a choice.

Part poetry, part dance, Pierrot Lunaire is a quintessentially French piece of theatre. It may not be the easiest to unravel, but it's a delicious way to spend your lunch hour.

Pierrot Lunaire opened on 18th August and runs until 4th September 2015 at Bridewell Theatre. (No performances on Saturdays, Sundays or Monday 31st August 2015.)

Nearest tube station: Blackfriars (Circle, District)

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