L'Hôtel du libre échange
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L'Hôtel du Libre échange ((French): Free Exchange Hotel) is a comedy written by the French playwrights Georges Feydeau and Maurice Desvallières in 1894. The play takes place in Paris in the 19th century, and follows two Parisian households and their friends over the course of two days. The play has three acts; acts one and three take place in Monsieur Pinglet's office, while act two takes place in Hôtel du Libre échange, a small Paris hotel. The play has been translated into several other languages.
The author's works have been seen as a precursor to surrealistic comedy; some elements of this genre are present in this play. Much of the humour is derived from classic comedy of mistaken identities, and the complications that arise from this.
The play is about two people who wish to engage in an extramarital affair. They check into a small, discreet Parisian hotel where they wish to spend the night, but complications arise and the couple never manage to exchange as much as a kiss.
The play opens in Monsieur Pinglet's office. He is visited by several people, including his neighbour Paillardin's wife, Marcelle, whom he persuades to spend the night with him in a hotel in town. Pinglet arranges for his maid to follow Paillardin's nephew to philosophy school, as the boy is easily lost on his own.
Pinglet's wife Angelique comes on stage to declare to Pinglet that she will not be home for dinner; she has to spend the night out of town. She then shows Pinglet some hotel brochures she has been sent in the mail. She is disgusted by the brochures, but Pinglet is excited and decides to go to the advertised hotel with Marcelle.
Mathieu, an old friend of the Pinglets, comes for a visit. Mathieu, who suffers from a speech impediment when it rains, announces that he intends to stay at the Pinglets' house for a month. The Pinglets are horrified, especially at the arrival of Mathieu's four daughters, who also intend to stay there. Angelique initiates an argument with Pinglet in front of Mathieu, which prompts Mathieu to leave. Before leaving, however, he hears Pinglet and Marcelle discussing the hotel they are going to, and decides to sleep there for the night.
After this, Pinglet tells Angelique that he intends to eat at a restaurant. Angelique does not want him to eat out alone, and so locks him in his office. Pinglet, however, takes out a rope ladder and climbs out of the window.
Act two opens in the Hôtel du Libre Échange, introducing the audience to the hotel owner, Bastien, and his assistant Boulot. They throw out a guest who has not paid his bill, and he causes trouble by saying he will call the police to ransack the place.
Marcelle and Pinglet arrive and order a room. Pinglet tries to persuade Marcelle to get into bed with him, but has obviously had too much to drink, and the alcohol and cigar smoke go to his head. He leaves the room to get some fresh air.
Paillardin arrives at the hotel, where he is led into a large room. He has been hired by the hotel owner to investigate reports of strange sounds and disturbances which the owner thinks are coming from ghosts. Paillardin leaves the room to get a drink.
Mathieu arrives at the hotel with his four daughters, and Boulot, not knowing that Paillardin is already booked into the haunted room, double-books Mathieu into it. Mathieu runs into Marcelle in the corridor. He invites himself into Marcelle's room for tea, and they are doing so when Pinglet comes back. Pinglet manages to make Mathieu leave. Mathieu and his daughters go into their own room, and Mathieu then helps himself to Paillardin's cigars, nightshirt and slippers, thinking they are gifts from the hotel. When Paillardin arrives back from the café, he is angry to see his belongings gone, and concludes that the supposed ghost is just a thief pretending to haunt the place. He goes to sleep in one of the beds.
Victoire arrives at the hotel with Maxime, having found one of Angelique's discarded hotel brochures and persuaded Maxime to go to the hotel with her instead of going back to philosophy school. They get a room.
The daughters amuse themselves by singing and making "ghost noises", but in the middle of it all Paillardin wakes up and is frightened by them. He goes running through the hotel yelling about ghosts, and the daughters themselves are scared into hysterics by Paillardin unexpectedly appearing in their room.
Maxime and Victoire are brought downstairs by the racket, and are frightened when they discover Paillardin running around. After trying to hide in Mathieu's room, they exit the hotel.
Paillardin tries to get into Pinglet's and Marcelle's room to hide from the "ghosts", and when he finally succeeds in breaking down the door, Pinglet hides in the fireplace. His face is black from the soot in the fireplace, so Paillardin does not recognise him. At this point the police arrives and arrests everyone. Marcelle, pretending to be married to Pinglet, gives her name to the police as Madame Pinglet. Monsieur Pinglet, on the other hand, tries the same tactic and gives his name as Monsieur Paillardin.
Act three opens in Pinglet's office the next morning, as he climbs in through his window and removes the soot from his face. Paillardin arrives and tells Pinglet of his terrible night and how he now believes in ghosts. He has no suspicion about Pinglet and Marcelle the previous night, but he remembers Marcelle's purple dress. Pinglet quickly tells Marcelle about this, so she can dispose of it. Marcelle gives the dress to Victoire.
Angelique is the next to arrive on stage, telling Pinglet in dramatic terms about how terrible a night she has had on a wild carriage journey through the countryside. She is overwhelming in her proclamations of love for Pinglet. Pinglet, however, is unfazed, and when a letter arrives to "Angelique" from the police station, he is quick to use this to his advantage. He confronts Angelique and Paillardin about the letter. Marcelle arrives.
At this point Mathieu arrives and tries to talk to the Pinglets about his terrible night. Pinglet, fearing that Mathieu will tell everyone else that they met last night, pushes him into the bedroom.
Police inspector Boucard arrives in Pinglet's office, and Angelique and Paillardin try to make him understand that they were not the people in l'Hôtel du Libre échange. The police inspector does not intend to pursue the case, but is still hesitant to clear their names completely. Mathieu comes into the room and is about to tell everyone about who he met, when Maxime climbs in through the window and sees Mathieu. He does not want to be recognised and so covers his face with Pinglet's soot-stained handkerchief, inadvertently making his face black. When everyone sees his black face, they are convinced he is the man from the hotel. Maxime confesses that he was there with Victoire. Mathieu is then pushed out of the room. Boucard gives 5000 francs to Maxime, money that Pinglet had given the inspector as bail to be released from jail.
The play can be interpreted as saying something about upper-class Paris in the 19th century. Almost every character has something they are not being honest about. Pinglet is cheating on his wife; Bastien cheats the guests; and even the police inspector sets the law aside for his own interests, saying he will not prosecute Madame Pinglet and Monsieur Paillardin if Paillardin will help him with a problem he has. Most of the characters follow the strict rules of society on the outside, but are secretly willing to push them aside and make them fit their own interests. Remarkably, the only person in the play who does not seem to lie about anything is Madame Pinglet, a character the audience from the very first act is made to perceive as highly unfriendly and unlikeable. Even though she acts badly towards her husband and more or less everyone else, she is the only one who is straightforward and honest about her intentions throughout the entirety of the play. Thus, the play, which at first sight is only a light-hearted comedy, can be interpreted to say that the people we perceive as nice may not actually be what they make themselves out to be. The play can be said to carry a deeply critical message to 19th century society about its rules, and how certain parts of the society feel they do not need to follow them.
L'Hôtel du libre échange has been translated into several other languages, including Norwegian, Swedish and English. There are several English-language versions. One of them, translated by Peter Glenville under the title Hotel Paradiso, enjoyed a successful run on Broadway in 1957, starring Bert Lahr, Angela Lansbury, Carelton Carpenter, Sondra Lee and James Coco, and has since had numerous revivals. Another, made by John Mortimer under the title A Little Hotel on the Side, enjoyed a highly successful revival at the Theatre Royal, Bath in August 2013, starring Richard McCabe, Richard Wilson and Hannah Waddingham.
L'Hôtel du Libre Échange, under its American name Hotel Paradiso, was released as a film in 1966, starring Gina Lollobrigida and Alec Guinness. The film, which enjoyed success upon release, placed Feydeau into his own play as a playwright observing the goings-on around him.
Plot of the film
Playwright Monsieur Feydeau is staying in the Parisian Hotel Paradiso. He needs to write a new play, but has writer's block. He takes the opportunity to observe his fellow guests: Monsieur Boniface, henpecked by his domineering wife, and Marcelle, the beautiful but neglected wife of Henri, a building inspector. Henri is sent to the hotel to investigate rumours of ghosts (which turn out to be caused by drains). However, the hotel is the trysting place of Marcelle and Boniface, who are having an affair.
In the 'by-the-hour' hotel, there are two husbands and one wife, plus Henri's nephew and Boniface's maid, who are also having an affair. Marcelle and Boniface's affair is severely compromised (not least by a police raid). All these events provide Feydeau with the material for his play, which becomes the succès fou of the next season.
- Noel E & Stoullig E. Les Annales du Théâtre et de la Musique, 20eme édition, 1894. G Charpentier et E Fasquelle, Paris, 1895.
- Daily Telegraph, 22 August 2013; Bath Chronicle 20 August 2013