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Les Deux Pierrots

Edmond Rostand and his friends liked to put on plays in the garden of the Rostand family’s summer villa in Luchon, in the French Pyrenees. At twenty-one, Edmond was not sure whether to be a poet or a playwright. Les Deux Pierrots, written in 1889, was to decide him, for it would prove his entrée into the French theatre of his day.  

The characters come from the Italian comedy: two Pierrots, one sad and one happy, are wooing Columbine (or Colombina). The original title of the piece was Pierrot qui pleure et Pierrot qui rit (Weeping Pierrot and Laughing Pierrot). Edmond’s musical uncle Alexis Rostand set it to music: the ms is in the British Library. 

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As he would do in his later plays, especially Cyrano de Bergerac, Rostand expresses his own character in his two Pierrots.  Laughing Pierrot is cheerful, unworried by worldly cares as long as he can "let his verses peal like chimes”. This embryonic Cyrano certainly has panache, with a feather in his hat rather than a white plume. Like Cyrano, Laughing Pierrot keeps his heart well hidden, preferring to meet the world with a smiling face. Rostand revered tears as an expression of deep feeling: he himself may appear to his acquaintances, and to us in his plays, as a Laughing Pierrot, but he also had a well-hidden inner melancholy, though he does not exploit this for sympathy as Pierrot Two does.

Though he keeps to the conventional alternation of masculine and feminine rhymes, the liberties Rostand takes with the traditional alexandrine, often breaking it into pieces shared among different speakers, make all his work seem very modern. This play and its successor, Les Romanesques, already display many of the qualities that were to make Cyrano de Bergerac so successful. Lighthearted, witty and ingeniously rhymed, both plays are fun to read and even more enjoyable to perform. 

 

Rostand offered Les Deux Pierrots as a curtain-raiser to the Comédie-Française, the state theatre and more likely to accept plays in verse. Its Director, Jules Claretie, was so impressed by Rostand’s talent that he invited him to submit another curtain-raiser. Boldly Rostand offered him a full three-act play. This would be Les Romanesques (more familiar to English-speaking audiences as the origin of the long-running musical, The Fantasticks). The success of this play in 1894 opened the way for Rostand to become an established playwright – no less a figure than Sarah Bernhardt would star in La Princesse lointaine in 1895 and in La Samaritaine at Easter 1897. The end of that same year would see the triumph of Cyrano de Bergerac.

Les Romanesques
(The All-Too-Romantics)

Les Romanesques, a three-act play in verse, was first performed on 21 May 1894.  This lighthearted and altogether delightful play was a great success with the audience at the Comédie-Française, and Rostand was awarded the Prix Toirac for the best play by a newcomer at the state theatre. 

Percinet and Sylvie are the starry-eyed ‘All-Too-Romantics’ of the title. They meet in secret at the wall separating the gardens of their feuding fathers. They have fallen in love and consider themselves the new Romeo and Juliet, forbidden to marry. But a surprise intervention appears to be leading to a happy solution for all concerned by the first-act curtain.  But Rostand was not such a romantic himself as to end the story there. True love needs more than romantic notions to sustain it. Sylvie and Percinet have to come to terms with real life and discover the meaning of true love before all can end happily in the third act. 

Here in Les Romanesques are already many of the qualities noted above and that would later serve Rostand so well in Cyrano de Bergerac: his witty and lyrical verse; his gentle humour at the expense of his characters; his stagecraft; and his ability to convey serious ideas in a lighthearted way. Straforel, with his swagger and eloquence, is very much a forerunner of Cyrano. There are four other main characters: Percinet and Sylvette (the lovers) and their feuding fathers, Bergamin and Pasquinot.

Les Romanesques has remained a favourite with amateur performers. After its premiere, it was immediately translated into a dozen languages, and it was the inspiration, in 1960, for The Fantasticks by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, the world’s longest -running musical.

NEW ENGLISH VERSION offered in 2024!

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Programme cover for Liverpool Playhouse in 1980

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We are publishing a much-needed new translation of this gem of a play. Earlier English versions of Les Romanesques are now sadly dated and so we are delighted that Thom Christoph, who has already translated this play into German and Catalan, now offers us an English version, The All-Too-Romantics, in his witty and deft blank verse. For performance rights, please contact us at gengepress@btinternet.com.

The All-Too-Romantics is being published by American publishers Ingram-Sparks as a print-on-demand title. This means copies are printed individually on request, so saving paper. This play can be ordered from your local bookshop or online. It will be printed by Lightning Source, and then published in the USA, the UK, Europe, Australia or almost anywhere in the world, so saving on your postage costs. In case of difficulties, you can still order direct from Genge Press: gengepress@btinternet.com .

The cost per copy is $13.99,  £11.00 or Euros 12.00.

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