As a legendary venue where the walls patina witnesses the memory of exceptional events the Theatre des Bouffes du Nord hosts actors and musicians from all over the world since its early days. Built in 1876, it re-opened in 1974 under the direction of Peter Brook and Micheline Rozan. In 2010, Olivier Mantei and Olivier Poubelle took over the management of the theatre and still carry on a tradition of a place of creation.
A place, a story
From 1876 to 1974
1876 - Designed for the Café-concert repertoire, the Bouffes du Nord Theatre, commissioned by M. Chéret to the architect Louis-Marie Emile Leménil, was built on the foundations of barracks supposedly left unfinished. The hall comprised 530 seats divided into an orchestra, box seats
, and a gallery.
1876 to 1885 - About fifteen unfortunate directors succeeded each other. The theatre was situated far from the centre in la Chapelle area; in the border of the fields, it had poor transport links, was badly lit and hence not attractive for the Parisian theatre-goers. As for the local audience, they are not prepared to sit quietly at the show. At times they got so involved in the events played out on stage
, that the police had to throw them out of the hall.
1885 - Abel Ballet, a theatre director who mostly toiled on in the local theatres, re-opened the Bouffes du Nord. He produced grand historical epics and melodramas in which Margot cried her heart out. Shows began at 7 in the evening and often ended after midnight. Like in Montparnasse, one brings along one’s own grub to be heated on the common stove
, and enjoyed during the interval. This year Yvette Guilbert made her debut in Alexandre Dumas’ The Queen Margot.
1893 - Abel Ballet hosted Lugné-Poë who staged Ibsen’s Rosmersholm and An Enemy of the People with the actors from the Théâtre de l’Œuvre, in the set designed and painted by Edouard Vuillard.
1896 - Abel Ballet resigned from the post of the director of Bouffes du Nord Theatre. Two actors succeeded him: Emmanuel CIot and G. Dublay.
1904 - At the instigation of its directors, the hall was entirely refurbished, repainted and electrically lit. As if to give it more nobility, the name of the theatre was changed to « Théâtre Molière » and authors like Henry Kistemaeckers, Georges Darien and Gaston Leroux were called on.
August 1914 - The Théâtre Molière, like all others, shut down.
1917 - Owners of several variety theatres, Oscar Dufrenne and Henry Varna acquired the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord and transformed it into a music-hall.
1923 - Oscar Dufrenne and Henry Varna retired. Henry Darcet became director in his turn and registered the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in "The Consortium of Local Theatres". Gathered in the same organisation, these local theatres (Gobelins, Grenelle, Ternes, Montrouge, Bouffes du Nord, etc.) « toured successful shows from mainstream Boulevard theatres. »
1929 to 1935 - Paul Le Danois and Charles Malincourt took over as directors after Henry Darcet was appointed at La Scala. They pursed the policy of the Consortium as best they could. After the death of Charles Malincourt and
then Paul le Danois, the Bouffes du Nord only presented occasional shows.
May 1945 - As if to celebrate the Armistice, Jean Serge, a young and zealous theatre director, re-opened the theatre and named it "Théâtre des Carrefours".
September 1946 - Unable to meet the operating costs of the theatre, Jean Serge retired. René Marjolle, former singer at the Opéra-Comique aimed to give a lyrical scope to the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, but he also pulled out after a
very difficult year.
December 1950 - Charles Béai,
the former director of the Théâtre de l'Humour, decided to take his chance. Success at last, thanks to the rerun of These Ladies with Green Hats (Ces Dames aux chapeaux verts) after a novel by Germaine Acremant , with Alice Tissot and Armand Bernard. The piece stayed on for more than three months. Hope was back…
June 1952 - Too old, badly kept, the theatre was not up to security standards prescribed by the authorities and had to close down.
September 1969 - Narcisse Zecchinel, an Italian building contractor, bought the theatre and saved it from demolition.
Excerpts from The Parisian Theatres by Geneviève Latour and Florence Claval, published by the Délégation à l'Action Artistique of the city of Paris.
1974, Peter Brook reopened the theatre
Peter Brook and Micheline Rozan, founders of the International Center for Theatrical Creation (Centre International de Créations Théâtrales), remembered the run down building that the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord was at the time. Thanks to financial support from the Festival d'Automne directed by Michel Guy, they had it restored with remarkable intelligence and taste.
« Three years of travel and experiences taught us, the hard way, what is a good space and what is a bad space. One day Micheline Rozan says to me: « There is a theatre behind the North Train Station that everyone seems to have forgotten. I hear it’s still there. Let’s go see! » We jumped in a car, but when we arrived, where the theatre should have been there was nothing - just a café, a shop and a façade with many windows, typical of Parisian 19th century buildings. However, on the wall we noticed a piece of cardboard that vaguely hid a hole. We took it out, we made our way through a dusty tunnel, to suddenly stand up and discover the run-down, carbonised, ruined by the rain, the frost, and yet noble, human, luminous, breath-taking: Bouffes du Nord. We made two decisions: one, to leave the theatre as it was, to erase none of the marks that some hundred years of life left on it; the other, to resurrect the place as soon as possible. We were warned that it was impossible, a civil servant from the Ministry told us that it would take two years to get the money and the permission. Micheline refused their logic and accepted the challenge. » Peter Brook
15 October 1974 - Reopening of Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord with Timon of Athens, adapted by Jean-Claude Carrière and directed by Peter Brook.
« We kept the old wooden seats on the balcony, but covered them with new fabric. During the first shows some people were literally glued to their seats and we had to reimburse a few ladies furious to have left there a part of their skirts. Fortunately, there was much applause, but it almost literally brought the house down, since, due to the vibrations, big slabs of moulding came unstuck and fell, missing by a hair’s breadth the heads of our spectators. We have since cleaned the ceiling, but the extraordinary acoustic remains. Micheline and I established a rule: the theatre should stay simple, open and welcoming. » Peter Brook
1993 - Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord became a listed historical monument
« An old theatre is often beautiful, but the staging remains confined to spaces of the olden days. A new theatre can be dynamic and nonetheless remain cold and soulless. In the Bouffes du Nord, one is struck by the nobility of its proportions, but at the same time, this quality is upset by the rough appearance of the place. These two aspects make a whole. If one were to perfectly restore the theatre, the beauty of the architecture would in a way lose some of its force and become a hindrance. » Peter Brook
Excerpt from Points de Suspension by Peter Brook, Éditions du Seuil.
« I never believed in one single truth. Be it mine or that of the others. I believe that all schools, all theories can be useful in a certain place, at a given time. But I believe that one can only live by passionately and absolutely adhering to one viewpoint. However, with the passage of time, as we change, as the world changes, aims vary and point of view moves. If I look at the essays I wrote, the ideas I voiced in different places, something becomes obvious: a certain continuity. If a point of view is to be of any use, one must give oneself to it totally, one must defend it to death. And yet, at the same time, a little interior voice whispers to me: "hold on tightly, let go lightly". »
Excerpt from Points de suspension by Peter Brook, Éditions du Seuil.
Peter Brook was born in London in 1925. Throughout his career he has distinguished himself in different genres: theatre, opera, cinema and writing.
He has staged many plays, mostly by Shakespeare for the Royal Shakespeare Company, such as Love Labour’s Lost (1946), Measure for Measure (1950), Titus Andronicus (1955), King Lear (1962), Marat/Sade (1964), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1970) and Antony and Cleopatra (1978).
In 1971, Peter Brook founded the International Centre for Theatrical Research (CIRT) in Paris, which, with the opening of the Bouffes du Nord became the International Centre for Theatrical Creation (CICT). His productions stand out by their iconoclastic aspects and their international stature: Timon of Athens (1974), The Iks (1975), The Bone (1979), The Mahabharata (1985), The Cherry Orchard (1989), Woza Albert! (1989), The Tempest (1990), The Man who (1993), Who’s there? (1995), Oh! Les Beaux Jours (1995), I am a Phenomenon (1998), Le Costume (1999), The Tragedy of Hamlet (2000), Far Away (2002), Krishna’s Death (2002), Your Hand in Mine (2003), Tierno Bokar (2004), The Grand Inquisitor (2005), Sizwe Banzi is dead (2006), Fragments by Samuel Beckett (2007), Eleven and Twelve after Amadou Hampaté Ba (2009) and The Suit (the English and musical version of Le Costume, 2012).
He has directed several operas: La Bohème (1948), Boris Godunov (1948), Les Olympes (1949), Salomé (1949) and The Marriage of Figaro (1949) at the London Covent Garden (United Kingdom), Faust (1953), Eugene Onegin (1957) at the New York Metropolitan (United States), The Tragedy of Carmen (1981) and Impressions of Pelleas (1992) at Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, and Don Giovanni (1998) for the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence.
With Marie-Hélène Estienne and Franck Krawczyk, he produced A Magic Flute after Mozart and Schikaneder as part of the Festival d’Automne in Paris (2010), The Valley of Astonishment (2013) and Battlefield (2015), all at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord theatre.
His major books are The Empty Space (1968), Points de Suspension (1987), Boredom is the Devil (1991), With Shakespeare (1998), To forget the Time (2003), With Grotowski (2009) and The Quality of Forgiving (2014).
Peter Brook also directed films Moderato Cantabile (1959), His Majesty of the Flies (1963), Marat/Sade (1967) and The Tragedy of Hamlet (2002).
Official website: www.newspeterbrook.com
The project today
As seasons go by, the audience is invited to discover various productions combining successfully music, as well as theatre and opera.
All kinds of music – classical, jazz but also contemporary music – compete for the runs on the concert season.
The Theatre des Bouffes du Nord produces a large part of its concerts and shows. In doing so, four new shows per season are added to the repertoire. New projects are supported by the theatre from the start and all through the creation process by new companies as well as renowned artists. This structuring mentoring is based on a collaboration and a commitment spirit preserved over the seasons and years.
In addition to Parisians shows, over 250 performances productions on tour are given all over the world.
Confident with its influence, the Theatre des Bouffes du Nord also claims its local presence and commits locally for the diversity of the audience and supports the access to creation for all.