Nathalie Deguen takes a group of enthusiasts to admire three ‘green theatres’ near Paris.
The Green Theatre Network was founded in 2010 to safeguard, promote and animate ‘green theatres’, those unique outdoor places which blend the arts of theatre and landscaping. The network puts all those who are interested in touch with each other – those who love unusual gardens, or watching plays outdoors, actors themselves. The organisation’s French title is Réseau Européen des Théâtres de Verdure, known for short as Resthever.
The Network organises visits to green theatres, and one Sunday morning last October it joined up with APJO, the Association of Parks and Gardens in the Oise, to visit three Théâtres de Verdure in the area just north of Paris. Led by me, as Resthever’s president, and Corine Pinet, president of l’APJO, twenty people, armed with face masks, hand sanitiser and umbrellas, braved coronavirus and a gloomy weather forecast to meet at our first venue.
This was the Potager des Princes in Chantilly, close to the château and its famous stables, where we were met by the Potager’s owner, renowned horseman
Yves Bienaimé, who created the Museum of the Horse at Chantilly in 1982. In the 17th century, these three hectares (7.4 acres) were once a part of the château’s park and known as the Faisanderie, an area reserved for rearing pheasants. The Prince de Condé, who then owned Chantilly, was a relation of King Louis XIV and could call upon the royal gardeners; so the terraces were laid out by André Le Nôtre and the vegetable garden by Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie, who was responsible for the Potager du Roi at Versailles.
In 1773 the Faisanderie’s buildings became a pavilion for refreshment; then after the Revolution the property was confiscated and sold as a ‘Bien national’. In the 19th century the park was transformed into a romantic garden and several water elements were added. During the 20th century the site was gradually abandoned, indeed forgotten, until a project to build 58 houses there led to protests by local people and its purchase in 2000 by M. Bienaimé. Since then, he has been passionately involved with the garden and has worked to rehabilitate it in the spirit of the 17th and 18th centuries.
Today, it has regained its lustre and is listed officially as a ‘Jardin remarquable’ (a label granted by the Ministry of Culture to 400 gardens across France). There are terraces, a water jet, cascades, bosquets covered in treillage, topiary, a formal vegetable garden – just as in the 17th and 18th centuries. A zoo attracts families, who can also enjoy an orchestra of Chantilly-breed chickens and a ‘lapinodrome’ for rabbit racing – opened by local people involved in the famous Chantilly race course. Numerous panels explain the background facts in an amusing and poetic way.
For us, the high point of the visit was the green theatre, with its extraordinary setting: a splendid pool, animated by ducks with bright plumage, spanned by a Chinese bridge and framed by greenery which is reflected in its water to create the backdrop.
This gives every performance a unique dreamlike atmosphere: now a heron comes and poses majestically on the edge, now the ducks reply to the actors; sometimes the birds arrive or leave by boat when one features in the production! For many actors, and spectators as well, this is one of the most seductive and romantic theatres anywhere. Our group, too, was charmed – helped by the fact that our umbrellas stayed closed.
Moving on to our second visit, we discovered the green theatre at the Commanderie at Neuilly-sous-Clermont, where we were warmly welcomed by the owners,
Philippe and Antoinette Romain, both of whom are passionate about history as well as about architecture and garden art.
Their property, which dates back to the 12th century, was once a commandery, or district headquarters, of the soldier-monks known as the Templars. Laid waste by wars, it was rebuilt in the 14th and 15th centuries, then, like Chantilly, sold as a ‘Bien national’ during the Revolution. Today, a chapel survives from the Gothic period, while the main building is endowed with a beautiful Renaissance façade.
It was the aunt of the current owners who created the garden from 1962 in a classical spirit: fine topiary in yew and box, hornbeam hedges, a maze, clipped limes…. And at the end of an allée we come upon the ravishing little green theatre, which has everything! Royal box, orchestra pit, stage, backstage, even those curtains known as legs – and an excellent acoustic, which was thoroughly tested when a member of our group, an actor, made the place resonant reciting one of La Fontaine’s fables. The maze, with its perfectly trimmed hornbeam hedges, was another success. And there were further surprises: a pool framed by dahlias, palisaded fruit trees, carpets of cyclamen.
Before saying goodbye, we ate our picnic lunches under the shelter of the Gothic vaults of the chapel. Not a drop of rain fell – and no matter that there were no toilets. The Templars surely wouldn’t have minded missing out on such facilities.
Our third and last lap took us into the forest of Compiègne, to the Priory of St-Pierre-en-Chastres, near the little town of Vieux-Moulin. A tree brought down by the previous day’s storm almost prevented us from reaching our destination, but the brave drivers in our group passed calmly underneath its trunk!
Perched 130m (430 feet) high on top of Mont St Pierre, the Priory offers a superb showcase for the concerts organised by the Festival des Forêts, and it was the Festival’s president and a historian who did the honours of the site. And there, not only did we not need our umbrellas but the sun came out and made the colours sing in the surrounding woods!
The priory was originally built in the 9th century by Benedictine monks; then in 1308, on the orders of King Philippe le Bel, Celestine monks were installed there, who prospered and built a fine ‘logis’ to live in. After the order was suppressed in the 18th century, the site was abandoned and some of its stone used as a quarry. In the 20th century it was taken over by the National Forest Office, one of whose
This article was translated by Gillian Mawrey.
Find this arcticle in the new issue of HISTORIC GARDEN Review
This tour is offered by the European Network of Green Theatres and the Association of Parks and Gardens of the Oise Sunday, October 4, 2020 .
-First meeting in Chantilly at the Princes's Garden at 10am. We will visit the garden in the company of its creator Yves Beloved and will see the theatre of the Faisanderie (unfortunately the opening on the water room that constitutes the usual stage background will be obscured).
- At 11:45 a.m. go to Neuilly-sous-Clermont to visit the garden and the green theatre of the former Commanderie which will be opened to us by their owners, Philippe and Antoinette Romain. We'll have a meal from the bag.
-At 2:30 p.m. visit of the Priory of Saint Peter in Chastres with Cécile Gambier, historian, who will retrace for us the stages of the construction and development of the site and a forest festival manager who will present its current and future scenic uses.
To allow us to organize ourselves as well as possible and to take all the necessary COVID 19 precautions (20/25 people maximum) Registrations are to be taken as soon as possible (30 September at the latest) with:
-RESTHEVER: firstname.lastname@example.org or Dominique Ciavatti on 06 82 74 20 62
-APJ0: respond to the next flash info
Above all, don't forget to give a mobile phone number in your message!
Access by train: Gare de Chantilly for Le Potager des Princes and Gare de Compiègne for other visits.
Carpooling: Let us know AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
If you will only participate in certain visits, please let us know as well.
A fee of 10 euros per person will be paid on site.
See you soon!
Join us this year again for a summer festival dedicated to culture, nature and theatre! This year's summer tour is a bit special as not all of our listed theatres have been able to maintain their agendas.
Our selection 2020 is listed in the Summer Festival 2020 section and we hope to see you all part of the audience this summer!
STAY TUNED AND BOOK YOUR THEATRICAL HOLIDAYS!