Paris theatre shares secrets of staging same play for record-breaking 67 years

The Bald Soprano, the debut play by Romanian-French avant-gardist Eugène Ionesco, has been running in a tiny venue in Paris's Latin Quarter for a record 67 years. RFI looks at what's behind its staying power – and what it's like for the theatre's unique 45-member company, some of whom have been performing the same absurdist roles for decades.

When La Cantatrice Chauve (The Bald Soprano) premiered at Paris's Theatre de la Huchette in May 1957, a well-known critic at Le Figaro newspaper announced it would “drive audiences away from theatre”.

He was wrong. On 2 March this year, just ahead of the 30th anniversary of the author's death in Paris, the theatre celebrated the play’s 20,000th performance. More than two million spectators have settled into its 85 red-velvet seats since it began.

Teamed up with another short Ionesco play, La Leçon (The Lesson), the two works have been running five nights a week at that same theatre for 67 years, interrupted only by the 2020 Covid pandemic.

“We’ve had two shows since 1957, it’s a world record of representations in the same theatre,” la Huchette’s director Franck Desmedt says proudly in his poster-lined basement office below the stage.

“It’s a unique story. We have 45 actors and it’s the last [private] theatre to have a permanent troupe. This theatre is very rich because of those people. It’s like a family.”

Didier Bailly became part of the family 38 years ago. “Joining the Theatre de la Huchette is like joining a religion,” he laughs.

Family members are all shareholders in the theatre.

“I feel very privileged to be part of this company,” says actor Hélène Cohen, who joined “between 30 to 40 years ago”.

Read more on RFI English

Read also:
Podcast: War on youth, Ionesco in Paris, French women's right to vote
Farce or nightmare? Tim Etchells takes Avignon audiences on surreal journey
Theatre makes a spectacle of breaking taboos in New Caledonia