Sales! Two shows for the price of one

Creation 2003

An obscure company named “ The Minstrel’s Trestle” arrives in a village, whose town crier is no spring chicken. The announcement is made : “Tonight, this company will perform Sales ! Two shows for the price of one. Let it be known !”

So, “ Hamlet “ by William Shakespeare and “ The Imaginary Invalid “ by Moliere will be performed simultaneously, and both in record time : fifty minutes… They are off to a bad start, chaos rules : the sets are not all there, the leading actress is jealous of the young ingénue, and is drinking solidly ( needless to say that her Shakespearean queen will be wild ). The technician, a union activist, is counting her overtime hours every ten minutes or thereabouts. The assistant director wearing suspenders, is having an argument with the director.

Never mind, he screams : “ready, steady, go” – his way of getting things started – into the mic. The sound crackles. The revolving stage comes to life. With difficulty, and sometimes the machinery breaks down, then a black guy pedals on his Solex moped to activate it : wasn’t there a quota of immigrants imposed ? Everything has gone haywire : the powder from the wigs puffs into the air, the period costumes fall onto the actors’ legs and breasts. The actors try to do their best, managing from time to time to exchange some lines that have obviously been rewritten and corrected : Hamlet exclaims “ What a mistake ! “ when he discovers he has just killed Polonius. A mix of male and female majorettes try to lighten up the general mood.

At the interval, a tombola is drawn from the evenings takings (that is, contributions made by the audience) in a bucket. It’s weighed and counted. They’re off again, the screaming resumes into the mic. Are the actors terrified of the Black Hole ? An attempt is made to locate it, on the stage. This time it’s turning too fast, everyone is wading through the Imaginary Invalid’s vomit and the guts of the butchered Shakespearean characters. It’s absolute mayhem.

And yet, what love they have for the theatre and it’s trickery ! There is nothing missing : the painted backdrops, the masks, the fake swords, the costume chests, and even the prompter, despite the fact that she has to scream to be heard. One of the actors goes as far as starting a small conference on the theme : “ What is real theatre ? “

Laughter, mistakes, effects, parody, invigorating anachronisms. Here we find the spirit of Royal de Luxe’s beginnings. The Minstrel’s Trestle is only a pseudonym. This tacky name evokes the period where the “Illustre Theatre du Moliere” travelled the roads of France and Navarra. And this show is full of affection for obscure travelling performers that have never known fame.

After “ Small Chinese tales told and corrected by Negroes “ – a complex adventure - Jean-Luc Courcoult wanted to get back on the road and travel light and anonymously, at least for as long as possible. They manage to play the game for several weeks before letting the cat out of the bag. The Minstrel’s Trestle plays in small villages in the Cantal region, sometimes to only a handful of people. They have to parade round the village in order to attract their audiences, all the way to the local café. Everyone is careful not to mention that this show, Sales, has been matured and devised during visits to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London – and the Comedie Francaise in Paris.

By curious coincidence, one of the events of that summer – a strike in the Arts sector industry, and the cancelling of the Avignon Theatre Festival – catches up with this show dedicated to passionate actors in the face of adversity, and in financial turmoil. To play, or not to play ? At the heart of Royal de Luxe Company, debate is rife. One of the Minstrel’s Trestle performances is interrupted at the Châlon-sur-Sâone Festival. Royal de Luxe stop all activity during six months, and the continued presence of some members of the company is put into question / questioned….

Following this painful summer, for Royal de Luxe and all other French theatre companies alike, The Minstrel’s Trestle resumes its tour in January 2004, starting in Chili. It is performed in Santiago, in front of the Palace of Moneda and thousands of people….

And bearing in mind that street theatre is also town and field theatre, they spend a fortnight touring villages, using a portable electricity generator. In the middle of the Atacama desert, an apple tree appears, a small oasis, a village made of cinderblock houses and, around it, sixty-five inhabitants. In the distance, a volcano is smoking and a very affectionate llama is strolling. They decide to stay, and to perform, despite there being nothing to eat, nothing to drink and nowhere to sleep. They set up. Panic strikes, the village remains deserted….

Finally, the farmers return placidly from the fields, and everyone takes their seat. Two people are missing, a mother and her child. Courcoult leaves to get them, they are coming : “ In South America, you can speak with gestures, the tone and pitch of your voice, and people understand you. You can express yourself with more than just speech“. However, another moment of panic : what if these villagers who have never seen a theatre production, were to remain indifferent ? This proved to be a special encounter, one of those unforgettable moments where the company discovered new sources of energy.

Sales! Two shows for the price of one - Selection of the press review

Ouest France – 23/06/2003 – Véronique Escolano

« Une fois, on a entendu dire : c’est bien, on dirait du Royal de Luxe ! Sinon, on nous prenait vraiment pour une petite troupe de passage, raconte Jean-Luc Courcoult. On nous offrait à manger, on nous souhaitait bon courage ! C’est bon de retrouver un public populaire qui ne connait pas le théâtre. Comme lors de notre voyage en Afrique et en Chine. »


Télérama – 23/07/2003 – Emmanuelle Bouchez

« Les membres de Royal de Luxe, compagnie pionnière du théâtre de rue, se sont amusés à faire « comme si ». Comme s’ils étaient d’obscurs baladins en perdition (clin d’œil opportun et empathique à la précarité des compagnies dénoncée ces jours-ci). Ils se sont inventé un nouveau nom, le Tréteau des ménestrels, appellation sympathiquement ringarde grâce à laquelle ils ont arpenté incognito les villages du Cantal au printemps dernier. »

« […] l’émotion nous saisit. La magie du théâtre tout à coup s’incarne. Encore une fois, Royal de Luxe nous a bien eus. »


Sales! Two shows for the price of one