An Italian Straw Hat

by Eugène Labiche

directed by Kenneth Spencer

Performed at

The Nuffield Theatre


22nd to 26th March 1983

Eugène Labiche

Eugène Marin Labiche was born in Paris on May 5, 1815, the son of wealthy middle-class parents. He attended the Lycee Condorcet and, though an indifferent student, passed his examinations brilliantly owing to his phenomenal memory. He also took a degree in law at the University of Paris, though he never practised.

After a tour of Italy in 1834, he returned to Paris to establish himself in the literary world. He visited the cafes and theatres and haunted newspaper offices in the hope of gaining recognition as a writer and his short stories and drama critiques soon began to appear in minor papers. During this period he married, wrote a novel (printed at his expense), and collaborated with Marc-Antoine-Amedee Michel and Augustin Lefranc on the play M. de Coislin or The Politest of Men.

In 1844 Labiche decided to concentrate on writing for the theatre and soon produced two vaudevilles (light musical comedies of one or two acts). The emergence of a predominantly middle-class society in France provided Labiche with an audience and continuing in the vaudeville tradition he gained success with comic satires of the new class. M. Perrichon's Voyage, his 113th published play, at last secured his position as an important comedy writer, not merely the "King of Vaudeville". In 1861 he became a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, and his new status was consecrated when the comedy Myself was commissioned by the Comedie-Francaise. Earlier that year he produced Pots of Money which was destined to be one of his most popular plays.

Labiche left Paris in 1870 to live in the district of Sologne, where he became mayor of Souvigny. Thereafter he began to lose interest in writing, but in 1876 he collaborated with Emile Augier on a three-act comedy, The Martin Prize, and with Ernest Legouve on Grasshopper among the Ants before ceasing to write altogether. He had to be persuaded by a friend to allow the publication of his works in 1879. This collection was so successful that, again encouraged by friends, he applied for and was admitted to membership in the Academie Francaise in 1880. One of Labiche’s favourite comic ploys is to present characters who have to keep a secret from the others. The dissimulators are obliged to agree among themselves, bringing about a comedy-within-a-comedy. The intricacies of this structural device result in a great deal of humorous wordplay and double entendre and contribute to the movement of the play. For example, the wedding guests in An Italian Straw Hat are completely unaware of Fadinard's frantic efforts to replace the straw hat eaten earlier by his horse. It was this play that the influential critic Francisque Sarcey called "a revolution in vaudeville."

After his retirement from writing Labiche devoted the rest of his life to his family and farm, but his already prodigious body of work was to leave its influence on French domestic comedy. He died in Paris on January 12th, 1888, having authored or co-authored 172 plays.

Virginia Sheila Clark
Felix Ken Hann
Vezinet Graham Buchanan
Fadinard Brian Stansbridge
Annette Lynda Edwards
Emile Harry Tuffil
Nonancourt David Jupp
Helen Biddie Allen
Boby Chiris Williams
Clara Angela Stansbridge
Tardiveau Douglas Coates
La Comtesse De Champigny Avril Woodward
Achille De Rosalba Peter Neve
A Footman Kenneth Spencer
La Duchesse De Chateau Gaillard Mollie Manns
Mlle Ondine De Chateau La Pompe Ann Archer
Le Due De Chateau Gaillard Gardner Chalmers
Clotilde Sue Parkes
M. Beaujolais Brian Whitaker
A Corporal Of The National Guard Geoff Wharam
National Guards Ron Tillyer, Douglas Taylor, Wally Oakes
Midinettes Louise Moore, Janice Sainsbury, Belinda Holleyoak, Alison Smith

For the Maskers:
Designed and directed by Kenneth Spencer
Stage Manager Valerie Barwell
Assistant Stage Manager Adrian Clark
Stage Carpenter John Churcher
Lighting Clive Weeks, Alan Rolfe
Sound Laurie Gee, Alan Moore
Costume Hire Bristol Old Vic, Ltd
Wardrobe Mistress Lillian Gunstone
Business Management Graham Buchanan
Programme Design Brian Stansbridge


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Established 1968

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