Boulevard theatre (aesthetic)
Boulevard theatre is a theatrical aesthetic which emerged from the boulevards of Paris's old city.
Starting from the second half of the 18th century, popular and bourgeois theatre alike took up residence on the boulevard du Temple, then nicknamed 'boulevard du Crime' due to the many melodramas and murder stories shown there. In addition to the many attractions on display there – fireworks, pantomime, acrobats, etc. – a so-called 'boulevard' repertoire emerged separate from upper-class theatre. Then, starting from the Second French Empire, vaudeville theatre and comédie d'intrigue arrived on the scene.
'Boulevard theatre' is an entertainment form promoted by private theatre companies. At best, it is nearly always synonymous with middlebrow theatre, mostly comedies but also drama. Except for Edmond Rostand, the dialogue is almost always in prose. In general, the characters are simply drawn, ordinary or easily understandable. The dialogue is usually realistic, but in an unrealistic situation. Often, the intent is to surprise the audience with unusual happenings to characters much like themselves, or more hysterical. There is a strong tendency to avoid touchy subjects, such as politics and religion. The play is meant to entertain, not challenge preconceived ideas or offend, a successful format up to the present day in Paris, as well as New York and London for sex comedies such as La Cage aux Folles and Boeing Boeing.
Probably the dominant literary figure is Georges Feydeau, most active between 1890 and 1920, often produced up to the 21st century, whose comic plays display hard-hitting satire of persons involved in adultery and characterized by loose sexual mores, in a manner that was not seen in British theatre of the same era, much more puritan and reserved in regard to marriage relations and sexual subjects. Characters in British plays associate loose talk on marriage with the French. For example, in The Madras House (1909) by Harley Granville-Barker), Thomas, on hearing some cynical remarks on marriage, says to his friend: "Phil ... don't you be French."
List of playwrights
- Barrot, Olivier; Chirat, Raymond. Ciel, mon mari ! Le théâtre de boulevard. Paris: Découvertes Gallimard, N° 359, 1998. ISBN 2070533824
- Brunet, Brigitte. "Le Théâtre de Boulevard". French Studies 59: 417–418, July 2005. (subscription required)