Thursday, 1 April 2010

Robert Thomas


I've written more than once about that very interesting French playwright Robert Thomas. Thanks to Bob Cornwell, whose knowledge of Eurocrime, as well as Britcrime, is encyclopaedic, I have received an extract from Claude Mespiede's massive tome about the genre, which - most regrettably - has yet to be translated into English. I do hope that someday a translation is made, as it sounds like a tremendous piece of work. Meanwhile, my wife, whose French is better than mine, has kindly translated the entry about Thomas:


'Thomas, Robert (28 September 1930, Gap, Hautes-Alpes – 3 November 1989, Paris.)

At the age of fourteen, Robert Thomas discovered a passion for contemporary theatre. He left home just before taking his baccalaureat, going to Paris so he could write and act in comedies there. He paid for his theatre course with his salary as a telegrapher and worked as an extra in over fifty films. At the same time, he wrote seven plays (which were all rejected.) In 1950, he applied to Pierre Dux who employed him in Il faut marier Maman (You must marry Mother) with Denise Grey. So he began a career in the theatre, acting notably in La Main de Cesar (Caesar’s hand) and Les Belles Bacchantes (The Beautiful Bacchantes.) His first two plays, Huit Femmes (Eight Women ) and Madam Trait d’Union (Mrs Hyphen) were put on in Nice, in 1958 and 1959, but did not really achieve success.

Robert Thomas’ determination was rewarded by the triumph of a detective play, Piege pour un home seul ( Trap for a lonely man), produced at the Bouffes-Parisiens on 28 January 1960. It tells the story of a young couple on honeymoon: the man waits for his wife to come back following an argument. The wait becomes unusually long and starts a police enquiry which continues until a woman presents herself as the missing wife. The husband denounces her as an impostor but a number of witnesses confirm the young woman’s identity…This play, rewarded by the Prix du Quai des Orfevres, was translated and produced all over the world.

The next year, Robert Thomas rewrote his first play, Eight Women, also a detective mystery: trapped by the snow in an isolated house, the woman of a single family carry out an enquiry to discover who has killed the master of the house. In spite of conventions and apparent politeness, they play, behind closed doors, a game of truth as merciless as it is pitiable, revealing their weaknesses, their lies, their secret resentments: no one is spared. The play was adapted for the cinema by Francois Ouzon in 2002.

In 1966, the author reunited, in La Perruche et le Poulet ( The Parrot and the Chicken), the famous couple of the radio programme Sur le Banc (On the Bench): Jane Sourza and Raymond Souplex. A lawyer’s secretary is getting ready to close the office when she finds her boss stabbed. By the time the police arrive on the scene, the body has disappeared. Has there been a crime? A series of surprises and a denouement completely unforeseen prove to the policeman (the chicken) that the talkative secretary (the parrot) was right. Other important plays by Robert Thomas worth mentioning are Le Deuxieme coup de Feu (The second shot) 1965, Assassins associes (Muderers associated) 1965, Freddy 1969. Un ami..imprevu (an unforeseen friend) 1969 in the style of Agatha Christie, Double jeu (Double Game) 1970, La Poulette aux oeufs d’or (The chicken and the golden eggs) 1973, La chambre Mandarine (The Mandarin Room) 1974, Les Batards (the Bastards) 1979, Princesse Baraka (Princess Baraka)1995.

A film director, especially for Darryl Zannuck, he also produced television series, sometimes writing episodes and sometimes appearing in them. From 1970 until his death in 1989, Robert Thomas was the Director of The Edward VII Theatre.

With his lively and rhythmic suspense comedies, Robert Thomas knew how to introduce a certain French spirit into the world of the detective play, (which up to that point had seemed reserved for Anglo Saxon authors) yet without claiming to do anything other than entertain his audience.'

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am trying to find a copy of Thomas' play 8 Women; can anyone help me - pcenglishgoddess@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

There is an English translation of
Eight women [Huit femmes]
Published in Johannesburg by DALRO, 1971.

Worldcat located only two copies in South Africa.
http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/85914016

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks very much, Anon.

Anonymous said...

I have a copy in English but I am afraid since I had it translated myself I am bound not to publish it or transmit it electronically. The rights to an English translation - as I understand - cannot be granted.

Anonymous said...

Eight Women is about to be performed at Southwark Playhouse in London from 15 March in 2011. The estate has granted the rights for a new translation which has been made by Donald Sturrock. I think this is the first official production in the UK.

Martin Edwards said...

Great news, Anon! Is the translation available?

Mike Hobart said...

I saw this last night at the Playhouse theatre in Hobart, Tasmania. Apparently this is only the second time it's been presented on stage in English - the play's English-language world premiere was seven years ago in Australia. Barbara Royston did the translation; I think she's an academic from Queensland University.

Anonymous said...

It is now on at the Southwark Playhouse in London, the official UK premier, here's a link to one of the first reviews to come out: http://www.whatsonstage.com/index.php?pg=207&story=E8831300702782
The translation by Donald Sturrock is not yet available in print. 

Anonymous said...

The wikipedia page on Robert Thomas is pretty pathetic, I don't suppose you'd be interested in adding some of this knowledge to it?
That would be awesome.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have any information about the current owner of the stage, television, and film rights to Robert Thomas' works?