The Waltz of the Toreadors
The Waltz of the Toreadors [La Valse des toréadors] is a play by Jean Anouilh.
Written in 1951, this farce is set in 1910 France and focuses on General Léon Saint-Pé and his infatuation with Ghislaine, a woman with whom he danced at a garrison ball some 17 years earlier. Because of the General's commitment to his marriage, the couple's love remained unconsummated. Now faced with the reality of retirement with his hypochondriac wife, his paunch growing and his midlife crisis consuming his life, the General finds himself lost in the fond memory of his old flirtation. When Ghislaine suddenly reappears, he is delighted — until he finds himself competing for her hand with a considerably younger suitor.
The General and his mad wife had previously appeared in Anouilh's 1948 play Ardèle ou la Marguerite, and a further variant on the character appeared in the 1958 comedy L'Hurluberlu, ou le Réactionnaire amoureux. By the time of Anouilh's last play, Le Nombril (1981), Léon St Pé had transformed into a grouchy and unfashionable old playwright obviously intended by Anouilh as a cynical self-portrait.
Having premiered in Paris on 8 January 1952 with Claude Sainval in the leading role, the play arrived in London four years later in an English translation by Lucienne Hill. Directed by Peter Hall, the production opened at the Arts Theatre on 24 February 1956, transferring to the larger Criterion Theatre on 27 March. The cast included Welsh character actor Hugh Griffith as the General, with Beatrix Lehmann as Mme St Pé, Brenda Bruce as Ghislaine, and Trader Faulkner as Gaston. For part of the Criterion run, Renée Asherson took over as Ghislaine.
"This is an extraordinary work," claimed T C Worsley in the New Statesman. "It is at the same time wildly comic and savagely cruel; it moves with a virtuoso's freedom up and down the emotional scale from pure farce at one extreme to real pathos at the other. There are scenes of pure horror and there are scenes of pure comedy, and M Anouilh modulates between them with an absolutely sure touch." According to the News Chronicle, "the play, though deplorable, is a bit of a masterpiece." "This farce," added The Times, "has a bitter, some will say sour, flavour, but even those who resent its hard realism will be highly amused in spite of themselves, for a resourceful wit is supported by a brilliant sense of the theatre."
The Broadway production, directed by Harold Clurman, opened on 17 January 1957 at the Coronet Theatre, where it ran for 132 performances. The cast included Ralph Richardson as the General, his real-life wife Meriel Forbes as Ghislaine, and Mildred Natwick as Mme St Pé. The production received Tony Award nominations for Best Play, Best Direction, Best Actor in a Play (Richardson), Best Featured Actress in a Play (Natwick), and Best Scenic Design (Ben Edwards). It won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Foreign Play. Brooks Atkinson in the New York Times pronounced it "startling and funny ... original, bright, tart and worldly." Other US estimates included "endlessly fascinating and uproariously funny" (New York Herald Tribune), "genuinely uproarious ... witty, ironic, sophisticated" (New York Post) and "exhilarating entertainment" (The New Yorker).
On 4 March 1958 the play returned to the Coronet, where it ran for 31 performances. Again directed by Clurman, it starred Melvyn Douglas as the General, Betty Field as Ghislaine, and Lili Darvas as Mme St Pé.
The second Broadway revival, directed by Brian Murray, opened on 13 September 1973 at the Circle in the Square Theatre, where it ran for 85 performances. The cast included Eli Wallach as the General, Diana van der Vlis as Ghislaine, and Anne Jackson (Wallach's real-life wife) as Mme St Pé. This was the first of several revivals around this time. In October 1973, Louis de Funès starred in a new production at the Comédie des Champs-Elysées (with Luce Garcia Ville as his wife and Mony Dalmés as Ghislaine); this production was directed by Anouilh himself in conjunction with Roland Piétri (who also played the Curé). Then in 1974 Trevor Howard starred opposite Coral Browne (Mme St Pé), Zena Walker (Ghislaine) and Ian Ogilvy (Gaston) in a revival at London's Theatre Royal Haymarket.
The play was adapted for the musical stage by Howard Marren and Joe Masteroff. Entitled Paramour, it had its premiere in 1998 at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego in a production directed by Joseph Hardy and starring Len Cariou. Among more recent revivals of the play itself, Peter Bowles starred in a 2007 production at the Chichester Festival Theatre; the new translation was by Ranjit Bolt.
The play has been adapted twice for the screen. A television production aired on 16 November 1959 as part of David Susskind's anthology series Play of the Week. Directed by Stuart Burge, it starred, again, Hugh Griffith as the General, Beatrice Straight as Ghislaine, and Mildred Natwick reprising Mme St Pé.
A 1962 feature film directed by John Guillermin transported the setting to England and Anglicized the lead characters' names to General Leo and Emily Fitzjohn. The cast included Peter Sellers as the General, Dany Robin as Ghislaine (who remained French), and Margaret Leighton as Mrs Fitzjohn. Wolf Mankowitz was nominated for a BAFTA for Best British Screenplay and Sellers was named Best Actor at the Donostia-San Sebastián International Film Festival.
- The Waltz of the Toreadors at the Internet Broadway Database
- Play of the Week: The Waltz of the Toreadors at the Internet Movie Database
- Waltz of the Toreadors at the Internet Movie Database