Frederick Or The Crime Boulevard


Paris is fascinated by Frederick, a larger-than-life, popular actor, an eccentric, a seducer and a revolutionary for whom nothing is too much. He seems ready for anything except love. On the stage, he is the embodiment of passionate love, whereas behind the scenes he has to buy ready-made love. When he meets Bérénice, a young and mysterious woman with no connection with the stage, he faces a crucial dilemna: love as an illusion or love as reality? The stage or real life?


« Frederick was a gift that... »

Frederick was a gift that came to me thanks to the success of my previous plays. Because people trusted me, and because French star Jean-Paul Belmondo wanted to act in one of my plays, I felt at liberty to have more characters on stage, more scene changes and think up all sorts of adventures. For the first time, I wrote a play that was also a show. I thought the story of Frederick would only be produced in Paris. I never imagined that the play would be so well suited to subsidised theatres with their own companies outside France, nor could I imagine that just three months after the opening night in Paris, I would see a superbly lyrical German version directed by Torsten Fisher at the Theatre of Cologne.What I wanted to write was a popular play, direct, precise and sincere in bright, vivid colours; nevertheless, my own doubt and melancholy came into the play, adding twilight shades to the whole work. I wanted people to laugh, but I surprised myself by making them cry. The play starts out by satirising melodrama (there is even a parody of the famous "Auberge des Adrets"), but turns into a melodrama itself. I became aware of this as I wrote the play, but I decided to hang on to a structural perversity that had trapped me so delightfully: in apparently clearing the play of all its emotions, I was in reality, injecting them insidiously and therefore very effectively.With Frederick, I tried to convey my childish love of the theatre. Theatres are like churches: they fill us with hope when we go in. There is a kind of whisper that says, "Everything can happen here: the dead can rise again, the wounded feel no pain, stories never end, people do not grow old, a man can become a woman, laughter denounces what is ridiculous and villains may be punished." The house is illuminated by sparks from our dreams; it's somewhere where everything is light and comfortable because we know that nothing is real; you can smell the impatience in the air; the house is warmed by the pleasure we all expect. It is like a sheltered bubble where life is not only imitated but where life is reflected and even put right. Frederick's childhood was not a happy one. His mother was a sour, bitter-tempered woman who showed him no love and Frederick therefore sought the refuge of the stage to live his life, or rather to live his lives. For they were as numerous as the parts he played. The theatre enabled him in the course of his career to become a thousand characters, whereas millions of ordinary people are limited to only one part, only one skin. The essential plurality theatre offered him was also an essential duplicity: he never really knew when he was being sincere. He got used, not to lying, but to creating innumerable different emotions in himself every night, and he lost himself for a long time in the twists and turns of his virtuosity. He lost touch with himself; he did not know where his real life stood.In my play, Bérénice brings him back to reality. This time, with her, loving is not about acting but about commitment. Frederick who is skilled in emotions is not sure he has the gift for feelings. Why not? Because feelings are quite different from intense emotions, which are immediate, short-lived - once lived, immediately forgotten. Feelings, on the other hand, need time to take root, they help you choose what is best for your life, they outline your personality. Frederick, who mistrusts his own self, will sacrifice his love out of love. Out of respect and devotion for Bérénice, he will give up imposing on her what he thinks is his inconsistency. He does not realise that it is this very lucidity that gives him depth and that his transparency makes him opaque. What I wanted to do here was to describe what I had learnt from actors in the past years. Contrary to what is usually thought, actors are neither narcissistic nor self-centered. They are not narcissistic because Narcissus loves and admires himself the way he is; in his mirror, he sees the image of the perfect lover, and that is enough for him. Actors, on the other hand, have chosen not to remain themselves but to be loved for a personality not their own. They are not self-centered either, because self-centered people only think of themselves and therefore need to know themselves completely and be intimately linked with their ego. But actors are not sure they have a personality of their own. They prefer to display one they have borrowed. If they are sometimes too concerned about their career or appearance, it is not egotism, it is because they lack an ego of their own. If they happen to have one, it is no more than the ego of some dummy whose main obsession is to wear beautiful clothes in order to stay hidden under them. Self-doubt, the constant need for approval and applause are among the existential characteristics of the actor and they are often due to some old wound. Most of the actors I have known have been starved of love since childhood. This lack of affection and recognition poisons their lives but is also the driving force that makes them keep on acting, keep on winning success, but it also exhausts them in the endless aspiration for glory that is never satisfied because glory is not enough. I drew my inspiration, not only from my regular backstage experience, but also from Frédérick Lemaître himself, the real Frédérick Lemaître, the first popular actor in French history, a mythical figure of the 19th century. It also enabled me to show how, on the Boulevard du Crime (the nickname of the Boulevard du Temple in Paris), popular theatre was invented, a form of theatre, which like the cinema today, was meant for people of all levels of society and which embodied the hopes of the working classes. Popular theatre was also political theatre born of the revolution, carried by the revolution and which carried it along, and it was a form of theatre that sought always to entertain, often to provoke, sometimes to make people think and which refused, at all costs, to bore its audience, unlike today's theatre. It did not aim at didactic education of the masses, who were supposed to be uneducated. These days, the audience gets its revenge on theatrical pompous snobs who despise them by leaving their seats empty.Because he is an actor, Frederick is a very different character from all the others I have ever created. He is not introspective, he never comments on himself, he hardly questions himself, but he acts. Frederick is a hero, not far from the characters Dumas dreamt up for the stage, the only hero I have ever worked on. A bold, daring braggart, always showing-off and driven by his impulses. He has a capacity for improvising and the only thing he wants is to go from witty saying to witty saying, from adventure to adventure. He is like the sun: self-consuming while he shines. He exists just because he enjoys life. He lives the present and his life fully. After the long gallery of contradictory and contradicted dark characters I had painted, Frederick's arrival in my life was a real and refreshing joy. Zermat, Switzerland, the 25 February 2000Eric-Emmanuel-Schmitt


Magazine Littéraire - « Frederick Or The Crime Boulevard »

A god in the Gods.Frédérick Lemaà®tre, the figurehead of Victor Hugo's melodramas, sometimes dubbed 'the god in the gods', seems an obvious choice for the hero of a play. But it's a bold card to play, given that a masterpiece about him already exists in Jacques Prévert's famous film Les Enfants du Paradis. Nothing daunted, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt has followed in Prévert's footsteps, and his play Frederick Or The Crime Boulevard has been on at the Théâtre Marigny, with Jean-Paul Belmondo in the lead role under the direction of Bernard Murat, since September 22. Carné and Prévert's 1940's revival of the faraway glory days of melodrama was largely a tribute to the spirit of gloomy Romanticism of that period. Schmitt evokes this same spirit, but, since the stage is a restricted space (although he makes masterful use of it, alternating conversation pieces with spectacular sequences and dreamlike moments), he uses it to reveal to the public the psychology of an actor - a narcissistic monster, constantly unfaithful in love and more of an observer than an actor when it comes to passion.Frederick is constructed like a late 19th-century play that belongs to a theatre of the past with constant dramatic turns that were mostly created in the theatre. For instance, Frederick himself corrected the terrible play he was to act in, l'Auberge des Adrets, in order to give the whole production more scope and a funny and challenging flavour. Schmitt does the same, reversing situations to give them the sparkle of comedy, letting emotions develop underneath. It is dazzingly witty: - "Let us hope that this triumph will become a success"; - The author of the Auberge des Adrets: "I particularly enjoyed your silent moments"; Frédérick: "Please do. I wrote them!".One also thinks of Cyrano, especially at the end when Frederick, near to death, has one last meeting with the woman he loved so dearly after so many years of unconsumated and secret passion. Schmitt does not invent, but he unveils long forgotten secrets.

Gilles Costaz

Le Figaro - « Frederick Or The Crime Boulevard »

Pièce d'amour, Frédérick ou le boulevard du crime est un cri de passion à  un art, le théâtre, qui magnifie la vie.

Marion Thiebaud

Le Parisien - « Frederick Or The Crime Boulevard »

The richness of the show, its unparallelled cast performing with such élan, the realism of the scenery, the beauty of the costumes and the endless climaxes of a plot laced with so many witticisms, make this production an unforgettable occasion (...)We preferred the second part for its comments on the theatre and for two memorable intimate and moving scenes.

André Lafargue

24 Heures, Suisse - « Frederick Or The Crime Boulevard »

Schmitt's play Frederick is undoubtedly the most cunning play we have seen in a long while. Even if the tragic end seems an indulgence that sits heavily in the play, the overall result is a genuine admixture of happiness and tenderness together with a finely woven love-story involving an attractive heroine played with much finesse by Florence Darel.Above all, the play exudes a nostagia for the lives of popular actors and the frenetic spirit of theatre companies where members act off stage as well as on it, continually cheating, exaggerating, putting on a show, acting and overacting their lives, for life is so much more entertaining when you perform it, even when it is real, even when it is sad. Schmitt has put his finger on a peculiarly French and peculiarly Parisian characteristic. Everything you might want to learn about the art of dialogue is here.

Vincent Philippe

Le Point - « Frederick Or The Crime Boulevard »

Elegant, coarse, tender and wild: these are the words Théophile Gautier chose to describe Frédérick Lemaà®tre. Frederick is back, and once again he is the king of the Parisian stage. Belmondo gets right into the part and portrays this legendary figure with obvious delight. He plunges straight ahead into the clichés of melodrama, here and there introducing the practical jokes and quips Frederick had himself devised to improve the quality of the Auberge des Adrets. But, beyond these moments of farce, Schmitt's play is also a meditation on the theatre and on the life of an actor. Little by little, Belmondo's acting is reduced to the essentials, and the secret wounds of a man condemned to success and loneliness are revealed. The cast, the scenery, the setting, which recalls the theatrical pomp of a past era, the enthusiasm, the shrewdness, the emotional experience of watching a popular play (in the noblest sense of the word), everything is perfect: a sheer celebration of the stage as a world of entertainment.

Pierre Billard

Politis - « Frederick Or The Crime Boulevard »

Schmitt evokes the great clashes between theatre, love and the monarchy with contagious panache. A rich cake laced with Bourbon...

L'Express - « Frederick Or The Crime Boulevard »

Schmitt is Belmondo's Dumas!

Le Figaro Magazine - « Frederick Or The Crime Boulevard »

Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt clearly wrote his latest play Frederick with Belmondo in mind for the title role, so it is no surprise to find Belmondo so completely at ease, so natural and therefore, so charming. But Schmitt certainly never had him in mind when the idea for the comedy first occurred to him. For the main character of the play is not Frederick at all, contrary to our expectations, but theatre itself. Lemaitre is only a pretext, a foil that enables Schmitt to plunge into a fascinating and passionate reflection on the theatre and its actors. Schmitt has always been obsessed with the subject and it is this that makes him so alluring: his love of the stage. A close look reveals that his play is built around the penultimate tableau, when, after nearly three hours, Belmondo is solliloquizing on the miserable human condition of actors: "We are not men but only actors aping men!" This is the theme that interests Schmitt, and he movingly makes the point, although Belmondo sounds less convincing when playing scenes of intimate confession than when playing scenes of action. But for his message to be conveyed, the author needed a larger-than-life hero, a thundering messenger, in a word, a real character. So why not Frédérick Lemaà®tre, the ideal histrionic actor? It is doubtful whether Schmitt's fiction corresponds to the true facts. He has taken enormous liberties with his central character, who surely cannot have asked himself so many questions about actors and their fate. But that does not matter in the least. It is easy to forgive Schmitt for spiriting us so generously and so youthfully into the wings of the Boulevard du Crime where actors, those unfinished adults, once improvised a rough but heady stagecraft, infusing it with their own passions, for better or for worse.

Philippe Tesson