Words translate into action

10th October 1997 at 01:00
A drama seminar gave a fresh twist to the French Theatre season, writes Bernard Adams

The teacher stands, shoeless, circled by colleagues. He is wild-eyed, waving, pointing and shouting: "La frenesie!" But it's not the effect of too many years in the classroom. The teacher is taking part in practical session at a two-day drama seminar at the French Lycee in Kensington, west London. He is using body language to emphasise the meaning of the word he is shouting.

The dozen or so teachers present come from a diversity of teaching establishments in southern England - from the exclusivity of Eton to large urban comprehensives. All are delighted to be immersed in the event, part of the current French Theatre season.

Many of the pupils have already taken part in local "Bac to Bac" workshops. These are run by a group of French and British actors who help GCSE and A-level students prepare, rehearse and record on video a series of sketches and musical items. Other participants include pupils who have taken part in earlier competitions and attended a theatre course across the Channel at Montreuil.

Jacques Dauvin, cultural counsellor, at the French Embassy, says the two-day seminar "joins together the educational threads" of the French Theatre season.

For the two days the teachers put their charges in a sort of creche, then go off to do their own thing. They go through exercises with a French actor and drama teacher, Yves Gaudin. "We are completely exhausted. We've never worked in this way with body and mind before," says one happy victim.

It is indeed a sort of frenesie. The teachers try out new approaches with students and discuss relevant issues - particularly translation. The teachers are pleased to find new ways of using drama and to pick up some useful tips on directing - which some of them confess they do with no training.

Meanwhile at the "creche" A-level pupils are going through some warm-up exercises with another actor, Philippe Charbonnier, and even having a go at stand-up comedy. This leads to a lively discussion about the differences between French and British humour.

The GCSE pupils, meanwhile, are translating a few lines of Marivaux and then presenting them. They progress from straight translation to something more dramatic - while remaining faithful to the spirit of the author.

Then, in a fascinating workshop, six actors read (in English, almost unseen and with no direction) the first act of Marivaux's Les Fausses Confidences. The performance is technically well-read, but lacks focus. Then comes a refining process - trying out different approaches, aiming all the time to get close to the elusive texture of the original dialogue.

In the afternoon Jean Pierre Miquel, director of the Comedie Francaise, explains how he conceived his eye-opening production of False Confidences, which teachers, pupils and actors see at the Lyttleton theatre in the evening.

For Mr Dauvin the key to the seminar is "putting theatre people and theatre-watchers together". He hopes the process will be continued over time and will spread well beyond the south of England.

The French Theatre season continues until December with plays in London and Stratford-upon-Avon, plus films, lectures and discussions. Tel: 0171 420 0070 for details.

An education programme is running in parallel with the season, also until December.

Le Ballon Rouge a musical play in French and English, tours nationwide until December 5. Tel: 0181 544 1994. The Marriage of Figaro, performed in French, tours until November 12. Tel: 0181 940 3666.

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