Review – Paris la Nuit, Nostalgia Theatre Company, Fringe Festival, University of Northampton 3rd Year (BA) Acting and Creative Practice Students, Hazelrigg House, Northampton, 1st May 2019

Fringe FestivalLocked away in the cold, dark, dank basement of Hazelrigg House is not the most comfortable of locations but I can’t think of anywhere more perfect for Nostalgia Theatre Company’s production of Paris La Nuit. Even the stale smell of cigarettes and vin de pays that greets you conjures up a murky, tawdry bar in an unfashionable district of the French capital, where Jean Clement plays jazz for his regulars until war comes and he signs up. But on his return years later, he is startled by the appearance of a young orphaned boy, Mathieu, living in his old bar. Traumatised into speechlessness, terrified of his shadow, he’s just trying to find a place to survive. Kind-hearted Clement can’t kick the boy out, so he gets him to wait tables in return for his bed and board. The friendship develops between the two as Mathieu comes to regard Clement more and more as a father figure, but is it a bond that can withstand Clement’s past catching up with him?

Paris La NuitFor a period feel, this absolutely scores ten out of ten. Rickety tables, odd vintage crystal wine glasses, Parisian pictures, open cigarette cases, plus a plinky-plonk piano and a bar that has seen better days – the attention to detail is formidable et magnifique. With memories of Piaf, and an impromptu performance of Charles Trenet’s La Mer, the whole performance has a Gallic charm and vulnerability that truly stands out. There are moments of humour too, such as in the boy’s reaction to Clement’s liaison with a lady of the night, and his earnest, scrupulous cleaning of the tables.

Jean et MathieuSamual Gellard’s performance as Clement is authoritative, calm, measured, sensitive and you really feel you know exactly what makes him tick. Either his French accent is terrible, or, he’s doing a brilliant impersonation of someone from a region of France where the accent is terrible! Either way he still delivers much of the dialogue in fast, confident French, deliberately difficult enough to challenge any audience member who got A level French over forty years ago. But I was able to follow much of the dialogue, so kudos to both him and me for that. The unnamed young actor who plays Mathieu is absolutely brilliant, his facial expressions providing all the eloquence he needs to get his meanings across. And the two of them together provided some surprisingly touching moments. That must have been cigarette smoke in my eye.

At times I did find the story a little hard to follow; I wasn’t quite sure who it was who was catching up with Clement, and whether the money being extorted was simply a protection racket or a blackmail for something he’d done. But, at the end of the day, it really didn’t matter, and any fog in the storyline was a perfect reflection of the fog in his jazz bar. Two charming and convincing performances that waft you away to a distant world of the chanteuse, the raconteur and late night Pernod. Bien fait, mes amis!

2 thoughts on “Review – Paris la Nuit, Nostalgia Theatre Company, Fringe Festival, University of Northampton 3rd Year (BA) Acting and Creative Practice Students, Hazelrigg House, Northampton, 1st May 2019

  1. Charles Trenet’s ‘La Mer’ is one of those unlikely songs which plays back a most evocative soundtrack of my childhood. When we first got a gramophone (as they were then called) one of my then uncles had it on one of those easily breakable 78s, and it was played in our house ever so often, an additional quaintness lying in its being in French, which none of us could then speak. Even now, over 60 years later (actually released in 1946, I’ve just found out) it sends powerful shivers through me – almost, but not quite, making it one of my Desert Island Disc choices.

    Btw: I’ve only ever been to Northampton once – for a couple of hours in 1992! – when I worked briefly for a Covent Garden-based magazine before it went bankrupt. I had to catch a train there to visit a computer expert to deal with a certain problem we had. Needless to say my very short visit didn’t leave me with much memory of the town. (Alas? Maybe.)

    • That’s a wonderful memory to have of how you first heard that song. I can’t remember where I first heard it – certainly also in childhood – and it’s still a source of goosebumps! As for the much maligned Northampton, we moved here ten years ago and I’ve never felt more at home, it’s the friendliest place I’ve ever lived!

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