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French play, in French, in Brisbane

Right: Thomas Smith and Isabelle Johnson.Below right: Hugues Girod and Alice Militon. Photos by Olivier Piau.

The Student and Mr Henri

Written by Ivan Calbérac

Presented by Brisbane French Theatre

Queensland Multicultural Centre

Kangaroo Point


Last night I had the unique experience of viewing a show entirely in French, accompanied by English subtitles. I didn’t have to leave Brisbane to see it and not everyone in the audience was


L’Etudiante et Mr Henri, or The Student and Mr Henri is a modern play hat was presented by the Brisbane French Theatre.

A modern French play is not something I’m entirely used to, having been raised on Moliere and Beaumarchais. However, in life, one must learn from new experiences. This piece, written in 2011 by Ivan Calbérac was touching, poignant and warm at times. It was produced by a skilled team of creatives and performed by four equally skilled actors and Henri was met with genuine applause by the end of the night.

The play follows the story of a young student, Constance, who is in need of a flat in Paris. Along comes the opportunity to rent with Henri, a grumpy, belligerent old man who has no qualms with throwing other people’s possessions in the bin. Constance moves in and finds herself cajoled into a plan that’ll see her meddle reluctantly in the affairs of Henri’s dysfunctional family.

Along the way you meet Henri’s son Paul as well as Valerie, Paul’s ditzy wife. However it is within all these characters that you begin to see reflections of everyday people experiencing everyday lives.

This comedy-drama brings to the fore important aspects of life, family, love, loyalty, and ultimately death, but moves each scene along with humour and poignancy, that doesn’t get weighed down by the seriousness of it all. After all, life is serious but it can be funny too.

Calbérac’s work clearly demonstrates this with charming dialogue and oft-played tropes and themes that are renewed. Alice Militon as Constance, Hughes Girod as Henri, Isabelle Johnson as Valerie and Thomas Smith as Paul were all, ma-gni-fique in their respective roles and brought ripples of laughter through the audience with their well-played dialogue and tight-knit chemistry.

What really brought the play together was a sense of passion and pride in being French that the BFT have. The actors clearly revelled in their opportunity to speak their native language and it brought a sense of lightness and fun to the evening.

What I enjoyed about this production was not just the chance to bask in the beauty of French language, the ambience of the QMC venue, or the little petit fours and good wine. It was the fact that the audience left with smiles on their faces and a feeling of having seen a good show. Now if that’s not a good night out at the theatre, I don’t know what is.

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