Ardèle ou la Marguerite

Ardèle ou la Marguerite is a 1948 play by French dramatist Jean Anouilh. It was the first of his self-styled pièces grinçantes - i.e., 'grating' black comedies.


Set in 1912 "or thereabouts", the play concerns a family conference convened by the ageing General Léon Saint-Pé to discuss a romance entered into by his hunchbacked sister Ardèle. His other sister Liliane, a Countess, is accompanied by her husband Gaston (the Count) and her lover, Hector de Villardieu. All of them, especially the Countess, are scandalised by Ardèle's supposedly inappropriate passion for a fellow hunchback who has been engaged as tutor to the General's small son, Toto.

Their self-interested entreaties to her are communicated through her bedroom door, behind which she has locked herself and embarked on a three-day hunger-strike. The action culminates with the General's insane and apparently bed-ridden wife, Amélie, erupting from her room at dead of night while Ardèle and her lover (neither of whom is ever properly seen) take drastic action.[1]

Other characters include Nathalie, the General's daughter in law; Nicolas, his middle son; Marie-Christine, the Countess' ten-year-old daughter, and Ada, the General's maid/mistress.

French productions

Ardèle was first presented in Paris at the Comédie des Champs-Élysées on 4 November 1948; directed by Roland Piétri and designed by Jean-Denis Malclès, it starred Marcel Pérès as the General, Mary Morgan as the Countess and Jacques Castelot as the Count. (Because it was a relatively short play by Anouilh's standards, it was staged with a brief 'curtain-raiser' in the form of Anouilh's semi-autobiographical vignette Episode de la vie d'un auteur.)[2] Anouilh later developed the characters of the General and his wife in La Valse des toréadors (The Waltz of the Toreadors), which opened at the Comédie des Champs-Elysées in January 1952.[3] Paris revivals of Ardèle itself followed in 1958, 1979 and 1998. A French television adaptation starring Daniel Ivernel was broadcast in October 1981.[4]

Cry of the Peacock

On Broadway, the play failed utterly in a production at the Mansfield Theatre directed by Martin Ritt, with set and costumes designed by Cecil Beaton; translator Cecil Robson changed the title to Cry of the Peacock in reference to Amélie's repeated, bird-like cries of "Léon!" Opening on 11 April 1950, it closed on the 12th. The cast included Raymond Lovell as the General with Oscar Karlweis and Marta Linden as the Count and Countess.[5]

British productions

In a version by Anouilh's regular translator, Lucienne Hill, Ardèle opened at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre on 24 October 1950, with Anouilh's continuous action split up, for British audiences, into three acts. "As a piece of theatre," commented the Birmingham Post, "Ardèle takes the stage with the insistent assurance of high tragedy. Anouilh is a master of his craft."[6]

Hailed in the News Chronicle as "this brilliant and terrifying play,"[7] it reached the West End on 30 August 1951 in a production at the Vaudeville Theatre directed by Anthony Pelissier. Among the cast were George Relph (the General), Isabel Jeans (the Countess), Ronald Squire (the Count) and Nicholas Phipps (Villardieu); Ronald Howard and Veronica Hurst played Nicolas and Nathalie, with the Nicolas role taken over mid-run by Patrick Macnee. The play closed in the first week of November.[8]

In the New Statesman, T C Worsley, in a piece entitled 'The Love of the Hunchbacks', noted that "Ardèle comes very agreeably to the palate." Referring to the savagery of the play, he suggested "that it is arguable that Anouilh's device of the hunchbacks really doesn't quite hold his theme: he doesn't seem to have allowed enough for the pity that may redeem the horror." [9]

Worsley's fellow critic Harold Hobson noted in his book The French Theatre of To-day that "Such speeches as the mad old Générale's in the last act of Ardèle, in which her crazed and morbidly acute ears hear everywhere around her the sound of animals and people and even flowers coupling, are apt to make English audiences uncomfortable." "I remember," he added, "the horror that John Gielgud expressed to me over the scene in which the apparently pure young Nathalie confessed to Nicolas her powerlessness to resist the impulses of the flesh; and over many a luncheon Henry Sherek has described as revolting the ending of the play, where two children are made to ape the sexual desires of their parents."[10]

London revival

Directly after a preview week at the Theatre Royal Brighton, a short-lived West End revival opened at the Queen's Theatre on 18 June 1975. It starred Charles Gray as the General, Vincent Price and Coral Browne as the Count and Countess, and Allan Cuthbertson as Villardieu; the cast also included Lalla Ward and Anita Dobson, as Nathalie and Ada respectively. "The director, Frith Banbury, has sugared the pill under layers of candy floss," noted Helen Dawson in Plays and Players magazine, "and just about smothered it."[11] According to a programme note, "Lucienne Hill, who has translated a large number of Anouilh's plays into English, feels that foreign plays benefit from being translated every ten years or so as language and fashion changes. As a result Miss Hill has revised her original translation of Ardèle for this production."[12]


  1. Jean Anouilh, Ardèle: A Play in Three Acts, trans Lucienne Hill, Methuen & Co Ltd 1951
  3. Valse des Toréadors-ANOUILH-1952
  6. quote taken from the Methuen edition of Ardèle, London 1951
  7. quote taken from the Methuen edition of Ardèle, London 1951
  8. Frances Stephens, Theatre World Annual (London), Rockliffe Publishing Corporation 1952
  9. T C Worsley, The Fugitive Art: Dramatic Commentaries 1947-1951 [pages 234-36], John Lehmann Ltd 1952
  10. Harold Hobson, The French Theatre of To-day: An English View [pages 199-204], George G Harrap & Co Ltd 1953
  11. Helen Dawson, Plays and Players August 1975
  12. Martin Tickner, 'Jean Anouilh', Theatreprint vol 5 no 6, Theatreprint Ltd 1975
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