Théâtres Sans Frontières, La Tulipe Noire

Review in Issue 9-1 | Spring 1997

Alexander Dumas’ novel of the same name is a dark tale of betrayal, true love and strange flowers blossoming in stranger places. Théâtres Sans Frontières have turned it into a madcap comedy complete with a disco scene and obligatory 70s twirly hand gestures. And they do it in French. The tale is set in 17th century Holland. Nerdy tulip fancier Cornelius van Baerle is wrongfully imprisoned. His only friend and true love is Rosa, the gaoler’s daughter, who helps him secretly to grow a miraculous black tulip. For this he will win 100,000 florins and freedom – if he and Rosa can get the flower to Haarlem Horticultural Society in time.

The show was strong visually. The wooden set revolved slowly as the months passed and the lovers grew closer in the prison. Later, its two separate parts became carriages, racing each other to Haarlem. The live music was jaunty and evocative. But often, the storyline suffered because the production relentlessly chased laughs. In the scene of van Baerle’s arrest, a ‘comedy policeman!’ sketch replaced the cold terror of the same episode in the novel. It worked well, but confused the plot. And in general, the pathos of the love story was lost amongst all the crazy sidekicks and silly walks. The (French-speaking) audience loved La Tulipe Noire, but it seemed a shame that not a shadow of Dumas’ original was allowed out into the sunshine.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Feb 1997

This article in the magazine

Issue 9-1
p. 26