Visitors to Paris can find a perfect English Shakespeare experience (with French subtitles) in this idyllic garden setting

Photo Credits: Tower Theatre Company / Ruth Anthony

It’s hard to believe that it took the world’s best-selling author 200 years to conquer France.

And yet, William Shakespeare’s plays were only properly staged in Paris from the 19th century when, after some rudimentary musical adaptations of his comedies, his tragedies finally triumphed in the city’s theatres.

From there, his success went unchallenged, and up until today the shadow of the Bard haunts the City of Light.

And, if you are happy to get off the beaten track, you will find a hidden treasure among the majestic trees of the Bois de Boulogne, where a small open-air theatre, established in 1857, bears Shakespeare’s name.

King Lear by William Shakespeare, Tower Theatre Company performing at the Jardin du Shakespeare, Paris June 2015
Open from May to September, the Théâtre de Verdure du Jardin Shakespeare hides within its leafy walls an open-air stage surrounded by five thematic gardens.

Each of these is cultivated with plants and flowers that remind us of a specific atmosphere depicted in some of the Bard’s most iconic settings – from Macbeth’s Scottish moors to The Tempest’s Mediterranean landscapes.

In 1991, in response to a growing demand for English performances – quite rare in Paris at that time – the theatre started a partnership with the London-based Tower Theatre Company, asking them to stage an English version of a Shakespeare play.

King Lear by William Shakespeare, Tower Theatre Company performing at the Jardin du Shakespeare, Paris June 2015
The performance was widely acclaimed and the great enthusiasm shown by the audience has brought the company back to Paris every year since then.

Initially aimed at meeting the demand of a large Anglo-Saxon community, this project now aspires to make Shakespeare – already very popular – more accessible to a French audience.

To further broaden the appeal, since the end of the ’90s the plays have been performed in English with French subtitles.

Nevertheless, Penny Tuerk, former artistic director of Tower Theatre, confesses that it was a challenge to understand French tastes and preferences.

King Lear by William Shakespeare, Tower Theatre Company performing at the Jardin du Shakespeare, Paris June 2015
During their first years in Paris they only performed comedies, since history plays were less comprehensible for a foreign audience unfamiliar with English history.

Later on, they introduced revised versions of the historical plays that they decided to set in modern times with a recognizable social and political context.

Curiously enough, they realized that some of Shakespeare’s historical plays, especially those dealing with Roman times, a popular field of studies in French schools, were very well received in Paris.

Every season, three matinées are dedicated to schools, with a special Q & A session with the director following the performance.

This year it’s Romeo and Juliet’s turn to fall in love under the Parisian sky.

Go here for more information on the Théâtre de Verdure du Jardin Shakespeare

For more Shakespeare in Paris:

• Every season, the famous Comédie Française, the only state theatre with its own permanent company, stages Shakespeare plays that are well worth seeing. Performances are in French.

• Visit Shakespeare and Company, the renowned English-language bookshop located near Notre-Dame. Don’t forget to ask for Shakespeare’s portrait to be stamped on every book you buy before surveying your purchases in their coffee shop.

• If you are interested in French translations of Shakespeare, stop by the Librairie Théâtrale, a bookshop that offers an impressive collection of plays and specialized theatre books.