Adelaide Fringe 2014
Aristide Bruant is an extraordinary performer and poet, who also happens to own The Black Cat—this iconic café in the Montmartre district of Paris is the setting for this tragic tale of Emile Henri, an anarchist bomber (the original terrorist) and Genevieve, an hysteric from the Salpetrier hospital. A gnarly guitarist plays softly in the background providing the background music and occasionally injecting his opinion and a few snide jibes at Aristide with perfect timing.
Aristide Bruant tells the fictitious tragic love story of Emile Henri, a virgin anarchist, and Genevieve, one of the star hysterics from the Salpetriere hospital. Bruant introduces his audience to the dark side of Paris—the City of Lies and Spies where the shadows jump out at night and most of the inhabitants live in poverty, surviving on their wits and scraping the bottom of the barrel for something worthwhile. In the famous Salpetriere hospital, women such as Genevieve are hypnotised and exhibited for the amusement and horror of the fashionable elite. Henri is enraged by these displays and conspires with thugs and members of the underworld to bring these demonstrations to an end once and for all. As Bruant narrates this whimsical tale, wheedling, slighting, seducing and challenging his listeners, he experiences the limits of his own courage and reflects on his actions.
What really brought this story to life was the way the actors lived the tale—although they started out as patrons of the bar, they became consumed by the characters and acted out the entire saga with conviction. The relationship between Henri and Genevieve was remarkable and the character exposés helped develop the story as well as provide an insight into their lives. The simple mise-en-scene and soft plucking of the acoustic guitar strings kept focus on the characters; minimal props set the context and reminded the audience of a different era.
The venue, voted as one of the best venues at this year’s Adelaide Fringe Festival, was highly appropriate as it enhanced to the unique vibe and atmosphere of this performance. This was a compelling narrative and highly entertaining; the script was teeming with subtle jokes, witticisms, and repartee. Although Aristide Bruant’s world is small, it is filled with interesting and unique characters that encapsulate the everyday life of a Parisian during the fin de siècle era. It wasn’t a glamorous life for many of these characters, but that didn’t make them any less important or intriguing in the eyes of Bruant. It was a coup de theatre and memorable evening.