One of the things I love about summer is the festival season. Cognac may be a tiny town but we’re spoilt for choice. You know all about Cognac’s Mars Planète Danse festival in March – if you don’t, read my blog post. There’s also a big music festival in the first weekend of July (Cognac Blues Passions) and a music / local-produce picnic festival at the end of July (La Fête du Cognac).
The end of the summer doesn’t mean the end of the festivals: oh no, not for us Cognac die-hards, raving with festival fever.
On 14th-16th October there’s the Polar festival, which is not all about the Polar regions (you have permission to groan). The translation of polar is detective / crime / whodunit / thriller, and the festival is a celebration of this genre in the form of novels, comics, cinema, television and theatre.
Then we have the European literary festival on 17th-20th November (featuring Scotland this year, among other countries that have towns twinned with Cognac) – see my blog post from last year’s edition. I may even manage a post about this year’s edition before the event, if you ask nicely.
But my favourite is, and always has been, the Coup de Chauffe street theatre festival.
It’s organised by Cognac’s Avant Scène theatre in collaboration with the CNAR Sur Le Pont in La Rochelle, one of France’s national street theatre centres. This year is the 22nd edition and it’s taking place on Saturday 3rd & Sunday 4th September (there are no Friday evening shows this year).
Whatever you do, don’t come to this festival.
You won’t like the fact it’s completely free – one of the only free ones in France. You won’t enjoy laughing at the clowns or the circus acts. You won’t like the music bands meandering through the streets, the exhibitions, the dance performances, the amusing and thought-provoking theatre shows. And you certainly won’t like the relaxed, convivial atmosphere. The Coup de Chauffe is Cognac’s best kept secret – although the audiences seem to get bigger each year, so someone is obviously letting the cat out of the bag.
And because you definitely don’t want to come, the lovely Audrey at Avant Scène has given me a list of the shows that don’t require French language skills. There’s nothing worse than hearing everyone around you laughing when you don’t understand what’s funny. Though maybe that’s nothing to do with the language, come to think of it.
Unlike last year, you won’t need your walking boots, as the shows will be centred in the Parc François 1er, Jardin Public and town centre. This year is also Cognac’s 1000th anniversary, and the town will be celebrating by a big, collective performance featuring many festival artistes on the Saturday evening. Don’t come to this. It will be too much fun. I suggest you stay at home and watch TV instead.
So, which shows will be easy to understand?
Firstly, a group of British actors are coming with their pig. As you do. Their show is called…yes, ‘Pig’. So once you’ve played the piglet to their 9-metre-long sow, you could have a chat with Manchester-based ‘Whalley Range All Stars‘ in the Jardin Public.
‘Ballet Bar‘, a mix of hip-hop, narrative, mime and circus, will be acted outside for the first time, although they have plenty of experience in theatres.
‘Attention Je Vais Eternuer‘ (Be careful, I’m about to sneeze – that’s a translation, not me warning you that I’m actually going to sneeze, obviously) is a dance duo performance with changes of clothes at its heart.
‘In Paradise‘ is also dance, this time to rock music. And if you prefer Verdi to rock, you must see ‘Rigoletto‘, an irreverent street opera show in which a brass band and 4 singers use the Bel Canto form to act out a story. ‘Les Kaléidophones‘ is a sound décor, a combination of actors with cornets for listening to the environment.
If you like the screen, try ‘La Boîte Noire‘, a 3-metre-square cube in which a series of dancers, actors and musicians perform. The image is projected live onto a screen outside the box for the audience to watch.
There are lots more theatre-based performances, which you’ll enjoy if your French is up to it. Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing the company ‘Annibal et Ses Eléphants‘ and ‘Qualité Street‘, whose past shows have delighted me. I’m intrigued by the ironic ‘Cocktail Party‘ and am ready (or am I?) to face the migrant issues with ‘Bouc de là‘.
For practical details of times and venues, pick up your programme from tourist offices or check out the Avant Scène website.
So, the 3rd and 4th September. Have you got that? Good. Mark the dates in your diary with ‘early night’ or ‘TV weekend’ or ‘visit the in-laws’ or ‘clean house’. Write anything you like, in fact, as long as it’s not Cognac Coup de Chauffe.
I’ll (not) see you there.