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Alfred Hennequin (January 13, 1842 - August 7, 1887) was a Belgian dramatist who had a successful career as a writer of comedies. He is recognised as one of the innovators in the genre of farce. Georges Feydeau, whose name is synonymous with French farce, publicly acknowledged his debt to Hennequin. He was also the father of the famous French playwright Maurice Hennequin.
Life and career
Hennequin was born in Liege and studied at the Ecole des Mines de Liege. He began his career as an engineer in the Belgian Railways. Passionate about playwriting, he wrote a few pieces under the pseudonym of Alfred Debrun or Alfred Lebrun. These included The Three Hats which played in Brussels. He then went to Paris to run a streetcar company while pursuing his theatrical career. The Three Hats was revived successfully at the Theatre du Vaudeville in Paris in 1871. He co-wrote Aline with Armand Silvestre and Le Procès Veauradieux with Alfred Delacour. After further success with these, he decided in 1875 to abandon his industrial career in order to focus exclusively on the stage. Hennequin became the leading figure behind a new theatrical form, "le vaudeville structuré", examples of which were Le Procès Veauradieux and Les Dominos roses.
For his ability to sort out the most intractable entanglements in his farces, Abbé Louis Bethlehem nicknamed Hennequin the Bouchardy of farce. The complexity of his plots would often defy any attempt at neat summarization by critics. For example, in February 1880, the critic Arnold Mortier resorted to drawing a detailed plan of the set in place of a review of La Corbeille de mariage, co-written by Hennequin and Henri Bocage. This type of farce was baptized hennequinade in honour of its inventor.
A few years later, Georges Feydeau built on this technique to construct his farces, willingly naming his masters: Eugene Labiche for characters, Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy for dialogue, and Alfred Hennequin, the engineer of farce, for construction of plots.
Following in his footsteps, his son Charles-Maurice threw himself into playwriting at the age of 19. Father and son collaborated in the early years, for example co-writing Trop de vertu! in 1886.
Alfred Hennequin had an enormously successful career as a writer of comedies. He worked hard and drank to excess, the combination of which led to his confinement in a nursing home in Saint-Mande in March 1886. He died a few months later at Épinay-sur-Seine, on August 7, 1887 at the age of 45.
London revival of Le Procès Veauradieux in 2010
Unlike Feydeau, Hennequin's work is largely unknown in the English-speaking world. In 2010, the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, London revived Le Procès Veauradieux under the title Once Bitten to critical acclaim. The play was translated by Reggie Oliver and directed by Sam Walters.