French bashing by a Frenchman! | Drayton Arms Theatre

You’d have thought, given the savagery and ruthlessness of British colonialism in the past, Brit-bashing would be a popular, if not populist, thing to do. Perhaps it is in some quarters – it’s worth noting, for instance, how many British villains there are in Hollywood movies: Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs comes naturally to my mind. For Francis Renaud, however, ‘French bashing’, a rare English phrase in common use in the French language, is worse. He was in a lift going about his business when someone he had never met told him, to his face, that he could tell he was French by his luggage. Mystified, he didn’t think there was anything uniquely French about his standard suitcase, which looked like any other suitcase anywhere in the world, and anyway, he had relocated decades ago to Vietnam, part of a French colony until 1954.

French bashing by a Frenchman!
French bashing by a Frenchman!

The French, Francis (it’s first name terms in such an informal and welcoming setting) muses, don’t help themselves by being generally antagonistic towards tourists, despite France being, on a global scale, a popular tourist destination. ‘Paris syndrome’, which has its own Wikipedia page, is some sort of severe type of culture shock, where a tourist’s expectations of Paris (for whatever reason) as a romantic and genteel utopia are shattered by the sheer reality of the hustle and bustle of a modern capital city. As a French lady said to me recently, “They [tourists] think we are like La Cage Aux Folles. But we are probably closer to Les Misérables.

The only time I have spent on French soil for any meaningful length of time was on a school trip to Normandy and the surrounding area decades ago, and from what I recall, the surly customer service Francis spoke about wasn’t something I experienced – for instance, when a fellow pupil accidentally smashed a glass in a local café, the staff didn’t seem bothered. The teachers went ballistic. In English, of course. There’s a lot more anecdotal evidence that the well-travelled Francis is able to provide to back up his assertions, however, and his dealings with various people of various nationalities over the years means he is able to pull off credible imitations of different accents and styles of speaking. Whoever would have thought, in a show about ‘French bashing’, there would be a section about Singaporean abbreviations, acronyms and initials?

There is talk, then, of commonalities and distinctions between the French and – well, everyone else – and Francis’ disarmingly friendly style is at odds with the proverbial middle finger he thinks his fellow countrymen (and women and non-binaries) raise, consistently, both at tourists and indeed each other. The show is framed around the premise of tackling the ‘global pandemic’ of ‘French bashing’. His ‘presentation’, as he calls it, is persuasive, and refreshingly old-school – there wasn’t a single prop, video, or costume change to be seen. There’s something remarkable about one man and one microphone telling his story. A pleasant and highly observant comedy hour.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Fresh from Vietnam, a past colony of France for more than 100 years, comes an expat Parisian to give you a better perspective on the global epidemic: French Bashing. Monsieur Renaud has lived in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) for over 30 years and brings his unique perspective on not only the cause of French Bashing, but the tools needed to stop this worldwide virus! Using comedic anecdotes, cultural comparisons and a wry sense of humour, he will show you how easily you can cope with the French bastards and embrace them without guilt!

French bashing by a Frenchman!
Performances to Sat 20th Apr 2024

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