BWW Review: RUY BLAS at Grand Théâtre

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BWW Review: RUY BLAS at Grand Théâtre

It seems that this season Luxembourg has decided to host productions tailored to our taste. As some of you might know, we are huge fans of Victor Hugo, a man who left a mark in French literature and who influenced several generations of thinkers, writers and politicians. So, when the Grand Théâtre announced Yves Beaunesne's adaptation of Ruy Blas, we simply could not miss it. Despite our extremely tight schedule these last months, there are things for which you simply have to make time.

For those who are unfamiliar with the play, it focuses on the tragic story of Ruy Blas (François Deblock), a bright and honourable servant of Don Salluste de Bazan (Thierry Bosc), who is recruited by his master to pull a joke on the Queen of Spain (Noémie Gantier). At Don Salluste's request, Blas is presented to the court as Don César, the aristocrat's raunchy and fun-loving relative (Jean-Christophe Quenon). Against all odds, Ruy Blas becomes a leading figure in government, bringing a fresh new spirit to an otherwise decadent State. However, his strong feelings for the queen soon become incompatible with the secret that brought him to court.

Deblock's Ruy Blas was so on point, that you were left wondering if this was the same actor that had already starred in multiple other plays and films. At the beginning of the show, the servant's innocence and honesty was displayed with such craft, that it genuinely felt like the young actor was not acting at all. When in contrast with far louder aristocrats, Bras comes off as almost shy and unable to shine in their presence. However, the gradual and genuine character progression observed from the beginning until the very, perfectly displayed the struggles of a decent man, who leaps from the shoes of a commoner to those of a giant well above his station, torn between reason, honour, honesty and love. One of the highlights of the play, Ruy Bras's speech before the government, is made great not only because of the brilliant direction (we will get to that), but especially because of how Deblock unfolds multiple types of feeling in his words, ranging from patriotic passion to disgust by those who are failing his country and his queen.

Gantier faced multiple challenges in her performance, having to find a balance between the royal might and decorum of a queen and the warm-hearted side of a passionate young woman. This balance was extremely well achieved, with the deconstruction of a mighty and gold-dressing monarch into a real person of flesh and bone happening not just organically, but also with a formidable artistic aesthetic.

Bosc was French theatre. French is a third language for us, so take this with a grain of salt, if you wish, but we have covered enough plays and films from France to know what French theatre feels like to a member of the audience. The mannerisms, the diction, the timing, the general flow of the speech and the capacity to not only deliver a line, but also to perfectly receive someone else queue every. single. time. Good theatre is not exclusive to France, naturally, but the best traits of French theatre style and culture were embodied in Thierry Bosc that evening and we felt even more privileged to have attended this play.

As for Quenton, it was like watching the offspring of Henry VIII and Marianne. Don César's loud mannerisms and general bon-vivant vibe were a constant source of both humour and fright, right in the moments the play most needed them. The character often forced Quenton to display 180-degree mood swings. Making all of this highly believable, but also quite entertaining was a prowess that simply cannot go unmentioned.

Ultimately, however, the big winner of the night was director Yves Beaunesne. There is so much post-modern pseudo-intellectualism these days, that an empty stage has become a red flag for many audiences. Yet, Beaunesne made terrific direction choices, from blocking to lighting, from games of shadows to utterly masterful music. In fact, the very last song would have been enough for the play to merit a standing applause.

Our thanks to the Grand Théâtre once more, for allowing Luxembourg to attend such high-quality theatre.

Image credit: Guy Delahaye

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