You might not think about Paris as a theatre destination, but the French capital is home to more than a hundred professional theatres. If you speak even a little conversational French, it’s worth checking it out.
La Dame blanche (“The White Lady”), now playing at the Théâtre du Palais-Roy
al, is not about the “white lady” desert that you might know from visiting Belgium or the Netherlands. The title refers to female spirits that populate Franco-German mythology, often exacting dancing and other tolls of passers-by. This fascinating ghost story is filled with immersive effects, top-notch acting, and a thrilling pacing and dénouement.
The story of La Dame blanche involves an accidental killing, coverup, and remorse cut by experiences that may or may not be supernatural. Malo (Arthur Jugnot) accidentally kills his mistress Alice (Anaïs Delva, who also plays Alice’s twin Nina) with his car, deciding to cover up the death. This sets in motion a sequence of events including a murder investigation, nightmares, and an actualk attempted murder or two.
This show earns many points for viscerality. Arriving at your seats, you immediately notice cast members dressed as undead beings wandering through the aisles, scaring the audience. This will most likely distract you as one of these beings sneaks up next to or behind you – audible gasps frequently filled the theatre as others experienced this shock in turn. This simple but effective device sets the tone for the evening to come, which fairly brims with visual cues, tricks, and trompe l’oeil devices that draw you in. The crash of a car, the pounding of rain, and an apparition vanishing with the light are some of the many devices making their appearances; the stage magic is credited to KAMYLEON and well-deserves the appellation. Philippe Lacombe’s lighting also adds a great deal, with many carefully managed reveals abetting the pacing.
Effects do not make a show on their own, but when paired with a set of thrilling performances the ensemble goes much further. Our flawed protagonist, Malo, is played by Arthur Jugnot – a nuanced capturing of a man tormented by guilt and struggling for control. Anaïs Delva plays the twins Alice and Nina – one accidentally and tragically killed by Malo, the other caught up in a search for her missing sister and events taking an even darker turn. Michèle Garcia’s performance as La Vielle and Benoît Tachoires’s performance as Victor are noteworthy. Sébastien Pierre, Réjane Lefoul, and Emma Brazeilles give strong supporting performances.
One thing that La Dame blanche does excellently is keeping viewers from knowing what is coming next. How a scene will turn, which balance will be dream or reality, and what seemingly ordinary object will burst into motion are all part of the magic. The script by Sébastien Azzopardi is a great thriller.
La Dame blanche plays at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal in Paris, France.
Basil was named one of Musical America's 30 Professionals of the Year in 2017.