After five years of political drama, Brexit has finally hit the stage in France as a small theatre renowned for putting on absurd plays has brought out a musical whose backdrop is the run-up to the referendum ending with the Leave vote.
The Gallic twist in Exit, currently in Paris’ minuscule Théâtre de la Huchette, is a love triangle in which a Frenchwoman must decide whether to leave her French partner for an Englishman or remain with her boyfriend.
The director said the romantic plot had a "metaphorical link to Brexit as, during the 2016 referendum on whether to leave the EU, a woman also has to choose between two men. Brexit serves as a mirror for her the choice she must make".
All three characters work in the video game industry with the two French characters both makers of idiotic games that become popular hits.
The trouble starts when Sybille, the female character, decides to call on the services of Mark, a talented if cold and aloof British designer, in a bid to create a more ambitious game. Many of the scenes take place in the Eurostar in which the audience are treated as fellow passengers.
“The more the game takes shape, the more Sybille falls for the Brit and the less she feels for the Frenchman,” said Patrick Alluin, the play’s director.
“We play with cliches and larger-than-life characters. The Englishman is very cold to start with but warms up… whereas the Frenchman starts off a bit of a teenager who takes nothing seriously but ends up showing hidden depths.”
At one point, Frenchman Antoine and Mark hurl insults at each other only to finally agree that the others man’s culture remains his “favorite monster.”
Simon Heulle, Marina Pangos and Harold Savary star
Credit: Fabienne Rappenea
The comedy contains absurd songs and sketches, including one on opinion polls in which all three characters “scan the papers, TV and radio in the two months leading up to the vote”, he said.
“It all starts very light but by the end, they feel fed up with all these polls and rather alienated. It’s a dig at rolling news channels and the omnipresence of the media," said Mr Alluin.
“As tension mounts over which way the Brexit vote will go, tension also mounts over what choice she will make.”
In the end, she decides to choose neither just as the result comes through.
The tiny theatre – which only has 85 seats under normal conditions but must be no more than 65-per cent full due to Covid rules – is best known for its cult productions of two absurdist plays by Eugène Ionesco, The Lesson and The Bald Soprano. Both have run for over six decades.
Mr Alluin said just like the Brexit campaign, Exit contained its fair share of absurdity.
The director described himself as a huge UK fan; he visits London frequently and has two daughters studying in Britain “so personally, I was very, very sad”.
“But bar those with links to the UK, most French people haven’t thought about Brexit,” he said.
“One area where I can tell you it has made a huge impact is the student fees for my daughters. That is the biggest pain of all.”
The play is running as France this week confirmed it would extend the deadline to apply for residency for British nationals from June 30 to September due to high demand and health restrictions.
An estimated 25,000 Britons are still to apply and many thousands more still waiting for their application to be processed.