by Isabella Sharipova-Williams, published 13th May 2024

My colleagues at HER may rue the day they ever let me, Isabella Sharipova-Williams, notorious drama-head, take charge of their blog. Our page, from now until the merry month of September, will likely be 20 % useful tourist information, and 80 % a shrine to Molière’s and Marivaux’s memory. They have been warned.

On the off-chance that you are as dotty about prosceniums and monologues as I am (or you aren’t, but that really doesn’t matter – a good night out in Paris is simply INCOMPLETE without a play), I will raise the curtain on some of the most gorgeous theatres that I have ever laid eyes upon, all of which I one day want to direct a play in, all in this fair town. You have been warned.

Le Théâtre du Palais-Royal

I must admit to a terrible crime – I have only ever passed the Comédie Française. Why? Good question. Friends, if you want to go to the Comédie, you must be prepared to

a) Book the desired play very much in advance

and b) Be prepared to pay more than 40€ a ticket (there are cheaper ones, but those are often all that are left)

and c) From what I have often seen, queue outside the vast and imposing establishment, before the show (not at all in a joke queue, either – it spans the building’s outer perimeter).

(Students can get significant discounts if they arrive and get their tickets at the last minute, but that highly (highly) depends on whether there are any places left, and they are very much coveted).

However, it is the Comédie, so it’s nice work if you can get it, and if you get it, won’t you tell me how? (In the words of Ira Gershwin, ahem.)

Anyway, the Comédie is not important here – I’m talking about the Palais-Royal. That’s the first theatre I ever went to in Paris, and it remains my first love. It’s a beautiful 18th century theatre, ornate, gilded, grand, but oddly cosy. It’s also a short walk away from the Louvre, Tuileries, and the Rue Saint-Honoré.

I am one to talk about ticket prices, as seats at the Palais can range up to 62€. However, they can also be as low as 17€ (expect extremely low visibility, however – a friend and I fondly recall a night watching Edmond perched on our upturned seats, or else standing). Usually, you can pay just over 20€ and expect a good seat. Sometimes they will upgrade you, if the audience is sufficiently thin that night. Case in point – I bought a cheap ticket and ushered right to the centre of the stalls (orchestre, in French), for La Machine de Turing. It was an absolutely magical night, view-wise as stagecraft-wise. It reminded me of my unexpected upgrade at the Théâtre Hébertot for 12 Hommes en colère.

Théâtre Hébertot

I have only been once to this theatre a stone’s throw away from the Gare de Saint-Lazare. I have the impression that they put on more contemporary, controversial pieces. Like I said, I really enjoyed 12 Hommes en colère (a French translation of 12 Angry Men by Reginald Rose, an absolute masterpiece on criminal justice, morality, and what it means to be mortal). This is also a beautiful building – larger than the Palais-Royal, and darker in its décor. I recall rich, wine reds and mahoganies veering on ebonies. The stage is very big, too. Tickets start from 15€.

In the 17e arrondissement, this theatre is in the neighbourhood of our Arc de Triomphe and Champs Elysées properties.

Théâtre de La Porte Saint-Martin

The theatre that holds the claim to fame to have premiered Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, the most-produced French romantic tragedy in the world. Naturally, I entered the theatre fangirling like anything. It’s vast, and splendid. I had a box to myself, and felt like a princess. I went to see Un Chapeau de paille d’Italie, and whereas I maintain that no one will ever match Andrey Mironov’s interpretation of the rascally Fadinard, it was truly wonderful to be able to watch the production in its original language. I had some reservations about the music, I gave a few raised eyebrows about stage direction, and as a Dunediner I will not stand for the kilt that they dressed the Marquis in – the lack of a sporran was glaring. Other than that, it was great fun!

La Porte Saint-Martin is in the 10e arrondissement, just a few blocks away from the Rue de Paradis.

Théâtre le Ranelagh

If Palais-Royal was my first love, then le Ranelagh is my soulmate. I could try to describe in words how much adore this theatre, and make a facedive from the lighting rig into the stalls; I would succeed in pulling down all the lights with me, and I should illuminate nothing. To say it’s charming is an understatement. This place is home.

The Ranelagh, classic in its substance, is classic in its essence, too. They do put on plays written by modern playwrights – storm-making Dans la peau de Cyrano certainly being one – but for the most part, you will find the Old Masters. The first play I saw there was a raucous romp représentation of The Marriage of Figaro. Complete and total justice was done to this play. I laughed, and I cried. This was performed by the Nomadesques troupe, which also puts on a lot of children’s plays at the theatre. The other main company currently housed on the premises is Le Grenier de Babouchka, headed by husband-and-wife duo Jean-Philippe Daguerre and Charlotte Matzneff, both famous actors in their own right. They put on Rostand’s Cyrano, two Molière plays, and Corneille’s Le Cid.

Le Ranelagh is located in the 16e arrondissement, a handful of metro stops or a pleasant walk away from our Alma, Eiffel Tower, and Seine apartments.

La Comédie Bastille

Now, I, who have only ever been to the Bastille for a tango show (which was very good, and is where I reveal that I am also a shameless aficionada of the dance), can’t say much about drama here, but it is a very nice venue. It’s quite small, more modern, and it has no boxes, nor no balcony, I believe. The Grenier currently has their Téméraires, the story of the Dreyfus Affair as told from the point of view of Emile Zola and Georges Méliés, on at this theatre. I will go and see it – I have been given reason by the reviews to have great expectations.

This Comédie is a walk away from our stylish Bastille property.

Lucernaire

The Lucernaire is a new discovery of mine, and it’s not so much classically beautiful as bizarre, and that counts as beauty in my books. The interior is red, and the building is not house to merely one theatre – oh no! – but THREE, as well as three cinemas, a gallery, a restaurant, a gift shop, and a drama school. It is absolutely unique, and my existence is here for it. I recently went to watch Stefan Zweig’s Letter from and Unknown Woman. The theatre was on the top floor, and reminded me of Oxford’s Burton Taylor Studio, except it is larger. It’s the ideal setting for plays that break the fourth wall, which this one did, somewhat. It was a tragedy which broke down an unrequited lover’s descent into despair, from love at first sight, through poverty, solitude, and sickness, to untimely death; the love of a lifetime. The last show was yesterday, but you’ll be able to catch it at the Festival d’Avignon, if you’re keen! Otherwise, they are currently showing two Marivaux plays, a musical about Liane de Pougy called Chère Insaisissable, Marcel Pagnol’s Naïs, Pef’s La Belle Lisse Poire du Prince de Motordu (legendary French children’s classic, love it to bits), among others, among glorious others. Student ticket prices start at 10€.

The Lucernaire is located near our Luxembourg Gardens property.

Honorary mention:

L’Opéra Garnier

An absolutely stunning and bizarre place, truly grand. The icing on the cake may be the heavenly ceiling by Marc Chagall in the auditorium. The building is entirely over the top, but that is entirely its allure.

If you buy tickets on the day, you can get low-visibility seats for 10€. It’s worth it just to be able to see the inside of the monument. However, if you want to have a better view (and in such a momentous venue you really (really) might as well), you’d be looking at upwards of 50€, and, again, you may want to plan in advance.

If I am, in fact, preaching to the choir (the francophile, theatrophile choir), I would also recommend you listen to Acte 3 Scène 2, a Paris-based podcast (admittedly in French) on all things thoroughly thespian.

Now, instructed and inspired, I leave you to find the spotlights.