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Break of Noon (Partage de Midi) - Finborough Theatre

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

AS part of the Finborough150 celebrations, the London premiere in English of Paul Claudel’s Break of Noon (Partage de Midi) plays at the venue for six Sunday and Monday evenings and Tuesday matinees from May 27 to June 5, 2018.

Noon at the sun. Noon at the centre of our lives.

Set in Hong Kong and China at the turn of the 20th century, against the backdrop of the age of Empire and the first whispers of revolt and decolonisation, Break of Noon follows the inner journeys of four people who together depict all the multifaceted faces of Love.

Ysé is at the centre of a romantic entanglement with three men: De Ciz, her unstable husband who is obsessed with business and will do anything to open new trade markets in the East; Mesa, devoted to his Catholic faith, but who was rejected for the priesthood and feels abandoned by God; and Amalric, a fortune-seeking explorer, and Ysé’s old flame, who seems to be pushing Ysé into other men’s arms, whilst still hoping she will return to him one day…

Written in 1905, Break of Noon is a semi-autobiographical romance, based on Paul Claudel’s own real love-affair with a married woman, and his experiences as French consul in China. A modern French classic, it is a unique poetic and symbolist manifesto, in verse, on the human frailty of ambivalence and the conflicts and contradictions between physical love and spiritual faith.

Break of Noon was banned from the stage by Claudel himself for forty three years (following a recommendation from his priest during confession), until his friend, famous actor and director Jean-Louis Barrault, after he’d successfully created the epic Soulier de Satin, convinced him to allow him to produce the play in 1948. Barrault’s production, in French, for the famous Renaud-Barrault Company was seen in London in 1951. It was revived at the Comédie Francaise as recently as 2007.

Playwright Paul Claudel was born in 1868, 150 years ago, and was the younger brother of sculptor Camille Claudel. One of France’s leading writers, he also worked as a diplomat. In addition to being French consul in China, Japan, Brazil, the United States and many other countries, Claudel wrote thirty plays, twenty essays and fifteen volumes of poetry. Among his many successful plays was Tete d’Or (1890), The Exchange (1893), L’annonce faite a Marie (1910), and Le Soulier de Satin (1931), a ten-hour long exploration of human and divine love and longing, which was staged at the Comédie-Française in 1943.

His work was closely associated with leading French director and actor Jean-Louis Barrault and his Compagnie Renaud-Barrault. Claudel was elected an ‘Immortal’ of L’Académie française in 1946. A devout Catholic, he dedicated the last part of his life to the study of biblical scriptures. He died in 1955.

David Furlong, whose production of Moliere’s Doctor In Spite Of Himself was nominated for Best Director at the OffWestEnd Awards 2017, directs a cast that includes Elizabeth Boag (as Ysé), David Durham (De Ciz), Matt Lim (Mesa) and Connor Williams (Amalric).

Presented by Exchange Theatre with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre, Break of Noon (Partage de Midi) has set design by Ninon Fandre, lighting by Alastair Borland and costume design by Sarah Habib.

Also at the Finborough Theatre: the first professional UK production since its 1980 premiere of The Biograph Girl by Warner Brown and David Heneker (May 22 to June 9, 2018).