Home > 17th Century, CENTURY, Classics, French Literature, Highly Recommended, Molière, Personal Posts, Theatre > Theatre: Scapin the Schemer by Molière, directed by Denis Podalydes. Simply brilliant

Theatre: Scapin the Schemer by Molière, directed by Denis Podalydes. Simply brilliant

October 21, 2018 Leave a comment Go to comments

Scapin the Schemer by Molière. (1671) Original French title: Les Fourberies de Scapin.

Theatre evenings have resumed! My season started beautifully with a version of Scapin the Schemer by Molière, directed by Denis Podalydes and played by actors from the Comédie-Française.

For foreigner readers, a few lines about La Comédie-Française. It’s an institution, a theatre founded by Louis XIV in 1680. Molière had died in 1673 but it is still considered as his legacy, as Molière’s house. According to Wikipedia, it is the oldest still-active theatre in the world. It works differently from others with actors being permanent members of the troupe. It’s prestigious to be a member of this troupe.

La Comédie-Française is in Paris, of course but the troupe has been touring in Province this autumn and I had the chance to see their latest version of Scapin the Schemer. It’s one of the last plays Molière wrote in 1671. At the time, his usual theatre was closed for renovations and he wrote this play in prose for the good people of Paris and not for the court of Louis XIV.

It’s a comedy, based on the commedia dell’arte tradition. Octave and Léandre are two young men. Octave has secretly married Hyacinthe and Léandre is in love with Zerbinette. Their respective fathers Argante and Géronte were together on a business trip and now they are back. They have decided that it would strengthen their business if Octave married Géronte’s daughter. Problem? Octave has married Hyacinthe without his father’s consent and Léandre doesn’t know how to break the news about Zerbinette to his old man.

That’s where Scapin comes in. He’s Léandre’s valet and well-known for his audacious schemes. If he sets his mind on helping the two young men, he might just solve all their problems.

Scapin the Schemer is one of Molière’s most famous plays. It’s also one of the easiest ones. We usually read it in school when were twelve or thirteen and it’s often our first Molière. It’s a comedy of errors where Scapin lies to Argante and Géronte to get some money from them to help their sons’ love lives. He manipulates the two old men for his young masters’ sake but also seeks some revenge for himself. It’s the play with the famous Que diable allait-il faire dans cette galère ? (What the devil was he doing in that galley ?)

Denis Podalydes has made a masterful production of Scapin the Schemer. I’ve seen it before and it was set in a house. Podalydes decided to set the story in the Naples harbor, where it is actually set in the play. It’s a 17thC classic French theatre play: there’s one location, one plot and one timeline. The décor of the harbor was sober and allowed a lot of movement and range of action to the actors.

Les Fourberies de Scapin, Scénographie Eric Ruff © Christophe Raynaud de Lage/Comédie-Française

Podalydes thrived to give the play its original feeling. It was written for the small people and destined to be played on the street. It was not meant to be played in a silent theatre and the atmosphere was probably closer to Guignol than to anything else. Podalydes recreated that, making Scapin interact with the audience, making us participate to his cockiest scheme when he beats the hell of Argante.

The costumes were designed by Christian Lacroix and were the right mix of 17th century fashion and contemporary sobriety so that they did not get in the actors’ way.

And as for the acting, it was perfect. Benjamin Lavernhe was magnificent in Scapin. He had everything: the quick pace of a scoundrel, a perfect diction, facial expressions to make the public laugh out loud. He managed to blend contemporary moves into the 17th century text and story. Gilles David was Argante and Didier Sandre was Géronte. They were excellent in their interpretation of two frustrated fathers who see their plans derailed by their unruly sons.

Gilles David (Argante) face à Benjamin Lavernhe (Scapin) © Christophe Raynaud de Lage/Comédie-Française

The whole play was alive with raw energy, giving back what I think was Molière’s goal: to make a great spectacle for everyone with comical twists and turns. Podalydes managed to bring us back to the original spirit of the play and spectators were grinning in the corridors of the theatre when they left the premises.

Last but not least for us in Lyon. The Théâtre des Célestins is one of the oldest Italian theatres in France, along with La Comédie-Française and the Théatre de l’Odéon. It has been operating for more than 200 years. It was a treat to see this play with this troupe that perpetuates Molière’s spirit in this old theatre.

Théâtre des Célestins. (from grainsdesel.com)

  1. October 21, 2018 at 6:56 pm

    I am French but I had a blog in English and still have a FB page in English again as my “friends” there are all English speakers (most of them are native English speakers). I post regularly your blog entries on this page where they have a great sucess. The greatest? Your journey to Australia and your search of a perfect bookshop. My Australian readers wondered if you had been there or there or here… 🙂

    Like

  2. October 21, 2018 at 7:02 pm

    I am French but I used to bog in English and I still have a FB page in English as my virtual “friends” are either native English speakers or English speakers but none is French. I post regularly your blog entries on said page as information and you have a great success there. Your greatest one? Your journey to Oz. My Australian friends kept wondering if you ha been here or there or there or seen this bookshop, &c. Don’t change: you are hugely appreciated!

    Like

    • October 21, 2018 at 8:22 pm

      Ha! I knew you were French. Only a French could have a penname from Les petites filles modèles. 🙂
      Nice to meet another French native who blogs in English.

      Thanks a lot for your message, the “literary escapades” posts usually have a great success, at least compared to my other billets.
      I tried to find your Facebook page but I couldn’t find it. Can you leave a link ?

      Like

  3. JP Knopfler
    October 21, 2018 at 7:16 pm

    Le temps ne paraît pas avoir de prise sur Molière. Il a la tolérance pour seule règle et fait de l’humour son allié décisif. C’est l’antidote aux fanatismes. 🙂

    Like

    • October 21, 2018 at 8:22 pm

      On ne saurait mieux dire.
      J’adore Molière et son humour incisif qui met en lumière tous les défauts de l’espèce humaine.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. October 22, 2018 at 4:13 pm

    Ah, how I wish I had seen this. It was always a treat to visit the Celestins theater, and to see this play, the one that almost everyone in France has read! That would have been fun.

    Like

    • October 22, 2018 at 8:41 pm

      I’m sure you would have enjoyed this immensely.
      I really love this theatre.

      Like

  5. October 24, 2018 at 9:02 am

    Yep, I remember reading it with my eldest. Much more fun, of course, to see it performed close in spirit to the original!

    Like

    • October 25, 2018 at 9:50 pm

      It’s a must read for French students but everybody still likes Molière after studying him in class. Isn’t that marvelous for a 17th century playwright?

      Liked by 1 person

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