In fact, another reason was that I did a little research and found that behind the show is a very interesting backstory of the kind that is very close to my own philosophy of life. So it is that I’ve decided to write about it in another of my series of “Not Reviews,” this time a “Not Theater Review.” (My not-reviews have now been done for books, films, music and theater. The idea behind this special sub-species of post on my blog is that thing that Hemingway once said about writers acting as book critics: You can’t run with the hares and hunt with the hounds. And I never wanted to pose as a critic anyway, so I decided to just write about these cultural things that interest me, from the point of view of just an everyday spectator going to a show, or reading a book – and how it struck me….)
The backstory I mention above is that Collas was working as a lawyer in a company in La Defense, just outside Paris – where I used to work too, by the way – and one day in 2015 she went out and had lunch with her sister. At the place they ate, they had a nice conversation with the son of the proprietor – I wonder if this was the Livio restaurant where I ate for many years when working in Neuilly… – when that very night, this proprietor’s son went to a concert at the Bataclan.
Yes, he was killed. And Collas was struck by a revelation of the kind I have – many of us have – been visited with: Life is too short to not do everything we always wanted to do, or at least to try to do it. She had been considered the life of her office by some people, and had been told by some that her personality was such that she belonged on the stage, not in a stodgy office. So just days after those terrorist attacks of November 2015, Collas decided to quit her job and try to write a book – about the silly Parisians. About life in Paris, that is, from a Parisian’s point of view, but mostly feeding into the preconceptions of the foreigner visitor.
She had plenty of experience being seen as a Parisian by foreigners, as she had moved to England with her parents as a child for some years, and then as an adult she had studied law in the U.S. and worked briefly in New York City. So she also had lots of different worlds with which to compare to Paris.
She wrote the book, and then she began thinking about doing a show based on the book. Meeting a theater woman with experience in directing clinched that, and so with her help and coaching, she put together the original version of the one-woman show.
The show has been on stage now at the Theatre Bo Saint-Martin since September, and it seems it is selling out on its twice-weekly schedule in this cute, 70-seat theater each week. When I went, it was quite full of English-speaking tourists, and I should point out that I discovered the show while at the Roissy Charles-de-Gualle airport and finding a flyer about it at the Tourism Office there. From a marketing point of view, it is a brilliant idea, the kind of thing I cannot believe was not thought of before (or maybe it was!): A Frenchwoman makes fun of Paris in English for English tourists. The Office du Tourism backs the show because they know there is a ready audience that wants to go to a show in English, as they cannot understand French, and the cherry on the cake is that the show is all about the world they are visiting, feeding into their “Oh the silly French” preconceptions. What an amazing scheme!
And so how was it? I felt a huge amount of respect for Collas, who clearly was made for the stage: But how do you get from being a lawyer in a “classic” job to filling a theater within two years! She filled every moment with body business, vocal business, movement all around the stage, minimal props, and endless jokes. The jokes did play into the “oh the silly French” scheme, of course, but it was difficult to not be able to see the truth to much of it – the Paris driving habits, eating habits, social habits, childcare and manias like drinking wine to unhealthy levels while claiming it is as healthy as water. I had to object to some of the jokes, though, like, “Really? Frenchmen don’t wash their hands?” I thought that old idea about the French not bathing had passed decades ago. And then there was the use of Line 1 of the Metro as the morning horror story of horror stories – while I know that my own line, the aptly named Line 13, is clearly the worst …but unknown to tourists…. But while I think I was more in an “Oh the silly French” analysis mode and didn’t laugh non-stop throughout the show, there were plenty of spectators rolling with laughter non-stop throughout. It was beautifully refreshing to hear. (And speaking of “hearing” … I was unable to figure out what her “real” accent was when speaking English, since she seemed to have three or four of them, depending on the character…and that was clearly part of the charm and formula!)
In the end, personally I think what I got most out of the show – and this is important – is that I was thoroughly inspired to continue my own quest to try to live life to the full and do everything I always wanted to without ever falling into the excuse of “I don’t have the time.” Think of the vistas of self-realization that we might all have if we just took the chance. It also touched me to think of this cultural phenomenon that is a direct result of the terrorist attacks of November 2015. And from that point of view, I have to say that the French are not so silly after all – judging by what has driven Julie Collas to recreate herself….
Watch out, though, the show runs Fridays and Saturdays until 30 December. So last chances. And be on time; the theatre has several shows per day, and the slot for Collas’s show begins precisely at 7 pm, and ends just after 8 pm. Oh, and I forgot to mention: If you are one of the “silly French,” you might enjoy this show too (providing you speak English)!
UPDATE 7 February 2018: I have just learned that this show has been extended to continue until at least 30 April 2018, and possibly until August. So there is still plenty of time to attend. So clearly my (easy) perception that it was a huge success is indeed the case.