A bit of variety

Following my exciting visit to the Hotel de Montmorency, I walked to the old Theatre des Varietes on Rue Victor Hugo.

It all began in 1864, when an imperial decree relaxed the regulations around the running of theatres.  Prior to that decree, the running of theatres was very strictly controlled by a decree by Napoleon I dating from 1806.  The 1806 decree limited the number of theatres, with the aim to avoid bancruptcies their knock-on effect on the people working in the theatres.  The relaxation of that decree resulted in an explosion of new venues all over France.  In Beziers. the Casino Musical was built that year the name being changed to L’Alcazar in 1867.  Beziers’ L’Alcazar was a theatre of dubious reputation, and after a number of scandals it closed, to be transformed and reopened in 1904 as the Theatre des Varietes.

Here’s what the theatre looked like not long after it opened in 1904:

In the 1950’s its facade was altered somewhat:

And this is what it looked like on the day of my visit:

When the Theatre des Varietes opened in 1904 it was decorated in a style described as “Louis XVI rejuvenated”, very ornate and heavily influenced by art nouveau.

Inside, a spacious lobby gave access to the stalls, and there was a staircase to the first floor balcony.  The staircase was decorated with an enormous mirror.  The blue colour may or may not be original, your guess is as good as mine! 🙂

Here’s the top of the mirror:

The lobby on the first floor was where people went to see and be seen.

When the theatre’s fortunes declined, it was turned into a cinema, and in the late 1970 it was turned into a discotheque.

Here’s what the auditorium would have looked like around 1920:

And this is what it looked like on the day of my visit:

On the upper balcony the walls were painted black. On the walls of the first floor balcony, and on the ground floor walls, there was a sparkling finish.  All of that dated from its incarnation as a discotheque.  The sparkling stuff had a very disco feel to it!!  That said, the paint was peeling and flaking everywhere!!

Luckily, the decorative plasterwork does not appear to have been affected too much as yet!

The holes you see in the ‘flower baskets’ were light bulb fittings!  When the theatre opened in 1904, it was lit by over 300 light bulbs!!  At that time the city did not yet have a general electricity supply, but the theatre had its own gas-powered generator!

At the opening of the theatre, the glass panels in the ceiling were decorated in the art nouveau style.  They probably got broken over time and were replaced with regular glass.

The discotheque closed in 1982, and since then the theatre has lain empty and abandoned.  The building’s owners did what they could to slow decay, making sure that the roof was watertight.  They also restored the facade around the entrance, removing the ugly 1950s additions.  However, restoring the theatre to anything like its appearance during its heyday was beyond their means.

A group of local people had been advocating that the building be bought by the municipality so that it could be saved from redevelopment.  That finally happened earlier this year, and the future of the theatre looks somewhat rosier!

On the white sections in the pictures below, the paint has been stripped back to reveal the original plaster decorations underneath.

The stage:

Most of the original building is still intact, but a renovation is going to be costly all the same.

I do hope that the outside of the building will be given a face-lift too!

This was another fascinating discovery on my visit to Beziers during the recent European Heritage days.  I visited one additional interesting place after the Theatre des Varietes – to be continued!!

A night at the theatre

Recently, friends invited me to join them for a visit to the theatre in Pezenas.  They had been telling me about this historical theatre for ages, and I had been longing to go – so this was it!  The theatre is tucked away in a narrow side street, and the facade of it is rather plain, save for a very ornate doorway.  If you look at the top half of the door casing there is nothing much to hint at what lies behind the entrance:

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There are no flashing signs, no names up in lights!  With the large wooden doors closed it would look like many other buildings in Pezenas.  BUT, the wooden doors were open and allowed a glimpse into the foyer:

entrance

 

Very little is known of the early history of the theatre, but a description of it was made by the then town architect, Joseph Montgaillard, in 1855.  The town of Pezenas purchased the building in 1857, and in 1899 a series of renovation projects started, improving seating and stage machinery, as well as replacing the painted stage curtain.  In 1925 (!!) the theatre was electrified. I couldn’t find out whether it was lit with gas or candlelight before then. In 1947 the theatre closed down – I am assuming that it might have been due to the poor state of repair of the building.  You can find out a little more about the history of the theatre here.  There are also some pictures of it before the restoration began, on that website.

Work on the restoration didn’t start until 1998, after the theatre had been closed for more than 50 years!!  It finished with the re-opening of the theatre in 2012.  During those 14 years absolutely everything was worked on.  The building was made watertight, the interior restored and up-to-date technical services were installed.  Here is what it looks like today:

Door to the stalls

Door leading to the stalls

Former box office windows in the foyer

Former box office windows in the foyer

Detail of art deco decorations in the foyer

Detail of art deco decorations in the foyer

The foyer did not prepare me for the sumptuous interior of the auditorium

Auditorium of the historic theatre in Pezenas

Auditorium of the historic theatre in Pezenas

The photo above is of the view from the first floor balcony straight down to the stage.  The walls in the stalls and on the balcony are covered with striped wallpaper, faithfully reproduced after fragments of the original paper.

The ceiling was intricately painted and had been painstakingly restored:

The coat of arms of the town of Pezenas adorns the proscenium:

Coat of arms of the town of Pezenas

Coat of arms of the town of Pezenas

A new chandelier was created to light the auditorium:

the chandelier

The chandelier

Unfortunately the main stage curtain was not lowered during my visit, but apparently it is very much in keeping with the decorations you can see below:

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Top of the proscenium arch

Bit by bit the other patrons arrived, and the theatre filled up.  When it was time for the performance to begin the theatre was pretty full!

The auditorium filling up

The auditorium filling up

During the performance I took no pictures – I was too self-conscious of the loud click of the camera, and aware that the pictures might not be all that good with the low lighting conditions.  The piece we’d come to see was L’homme qui voulait voir les anges, The man who wanted to see the angels.  It was an amazing mix of storytelling and music, performed by Kamel Guennoun and the Trio Zephyr. I was totally mesmerized and carried along by the story and the music.  The simplicity of it was breathtaking – only the four chairs on the stage and the lights, which dimmed a little at times, but that was it!  A totally amazing evening all around!