(If you’re reading this on a phone, the pictures look better in “landscape” rather than “portrait’)
As we in the UK ease – perhaps – out of Lockdown, and as our theatres prepare – perhaps – to re-open, things across the English Channel are looking less promising, with new restrictions on public gatherings in Paris and elsewhere. And so alas it’s not surprising that theatre ventures there, especially those involved in importing artists from outside French borders, are foundering. For those of us whose pandemic world has been enlivened by the gripping drama of “Spiral” or the whacky comedy of “Call My Agent”, any dwindling of connections with our brilliant and resourceful French comrades is really sad. One such lovely link has been severed within the last two weeks: the admirable and cheering “Friends of English Theatre”, based in south-west France at Le Théâtre Colombier, Les Cabannes – a smart civic-owned venue beside the glorious medieval “bastide” town of Cordes-sur-Ciel.
This initiative, instigated and steered by the redoubtable expat British actor Donald Douglas, just doesn’t have the financial or human resources to carry on. For more than 6 years the FET (Honorary President Sir Derek Jacobi) has invited small-scale British productions to perform at Le Colombier, and found a welcoming audience amongst the region’s British expats and summer visitors.
The theatre is small (about 125 seats) and FET receives no subsidy, so it has kept going thanks to the unpaid efforts of Donald and a band of volunteers, organised by a committee. Over the years enough tickets have been sold to pay incoming artists modest fees plus expenses including flights – and for those lucky enough to perform there, wonderfully generous accommodation and hospitality have been provided by Donald and Emma Douglas, or by others on the FET committee.
But the the impact of Covid during this last year has been shattering. Donald I hope won’t mind my mentioning that he’s now approaching the latter stages of his ninth decade on the planet, so needs and deserves a rest. And at present there’s no-one amongst the English-speaking community in the Tarn region who feels able to take up the task of reviving the project once the pandemic finally evaporates.
So, in the Spirit of Micawberism that rules so many of us in the theatre trade, I’m offering this short summary of FET’s history and successes in the hope that someone out there may, as the world turns and the pestilence hopefully weakens, find themselves in a position, not to re-kindle this flame but perhaps to light another.
The Friends of English Theatre as a producing body no longer exists, but the Le Colombier Theatre does – it’s a comfortable, efficient space and within its building has a number of rooms which at one stage provided accommodation for a resident company. But please don’t bombard Donald with requests for information and help – below is a link to the contacts you will need if you have projects or ideas which you think would fit the venue and its location.
FET was formed in response to the theatre being built as a local amenity in 2014, when its committee obtained an agreement with the municipal authority for the use of the venue for a certain number of English-language presentations each year.
Below is a list of the projects that have added a dash of English-speaking theatre to this exquisite corner of mainland Europe these last six years, with some production photos by former committee member Jenny Cundy.
2014 Michael Lunts in Rachmaninov Crocodiles in Cream – Kevin Moore Growing Old Disgracefully – Virginia Ironside. Sweet William – Michael Pennington Christmas Show – with Sally Bradshaw and Donald Douglas.
2015 Oscar Wilde – Leslie Clack Hi Diddle de Dee – Donald Douglas one man show for charity .Beowulf the Blockbuster – Bryan Burroughs. A Fine Line – Judith Paris Scrooge – Clive Francis.
2016 Sweet Shakespeare – Frank Barrie ,Delena Raymond , Emily Raymond 84 Charing Cross Road – Leslie Clack Mme Tussaud – Judith Paris Under Milk Wood – Leslie Clack and company . Burton – Rhodri Miles Tom Crean – Aidan Dooley.
2017 Posting Letters to the Moon – Lucy Fleming & Simon Williams Austentatious – Improv company. Mrs Roosevelt Flies to London – Alison Skilbeck Totties – Carolyn Allen, Paul Smith. Galileo – Tim Hardy I Found My Horn – Jonathon Guy Lewis .
2018 Miss Wilson’s Waterloo – Karen Archer, Martin Wimbush Invisible Woman – Kate Cook 47 Roses – Peter Sheridan The Weatherman – Derek Fowlds, Donald Douglas. Lucy, Lucy – Lucy Barfield Are there More of You? Alison Skilbeck In Loyal Company – David William Bryan. Coward at Christmas – Simon Green
2019 4 Love – Delena Raymond , Donald Douglas , Claire Carrie , Nick Waring . Flo – Ursula Mohan Mistero Buffo – Julian Spooner The Man with the Golden Pen– Michael Chance. Larry – Keith Drinkel Tom Crean – Aidan Dooley. (Return visit – a big hit!)
Photos by Jenny Cundy.
Alison Skilbeck, Tim Hardy, Aiden Dooley, Simon William, Lucy Fleming
Martin Wimbush, Karen Archer,Derek Fowlds, Donald Douglas, Lucy Barfield
Ursula Mohan, Julian Spooner, David William Bryan
The world had become a different place since 2014, international changes the theatre will reflect. Brexit has happened, Covid is still happening, the Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements have shifted perceptions on gender and race. Now more than ever, collaboration, care and understanding across borders are needed, and our companies and venues will have a significant role to play.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION ABOUT THE LE COLOMBIER THEATRE, CLICK HERE: