The actress both wrote and led the project, which is offering visitors to the Comtes de Champagne Residence an immersive audio experience at a medieval banquet.

In the centre of Reims, inside the Comtes de Champagne Residence, the table is set. At this table, visitors are invited to take part in a completely new experience, which involves attending a banquet and tasting Maison Taittinger’s two iconic cuvées, the Brut Réserve and the Comptes de Champagne. Sound fills the space. We then find ourselves plunged into the audio universe of a medieval banquet, alongside guests including Thibaut IV, Count of Champagne and King of Navarre; the Sénéchal de Joinville and even Queen Blanche de Castille. 

This creative sound project was the brainchild of Vitalie Taittinger, who approached the actress Armelle to bring it to life. The two women met each other years ago and have been friends since. “I was very interested in the project from the outset,” recalls Armelle. “There was this character Thibaud IV, Count of Champagne, who I didn’t know but wanted to discover, as well as the electro artist Pierre-Alexandre Busson (alias Yuksek), musicians from the ensemble Alla Francesca, the historian Patrick Demouy, and the freedom to write and create…” 

All of them were involved in the project to varying degrees: Yuksek created an original soundtrack, while Alla Francesca covered songs originally written by Thibaud the Troubadour – whose songwriter byname is testament to just one of the enigmatic Count of Champagne’s many facets. “Quite frankly, I found the project both exciting and stressful in equal measure,” Armelle says with a smile. “I had to write a story about a banquet and give the audience a story to listen to, without tiring people out. The idea was to offer visitors a completely new experience, without the medium of image – only sound.” 

Armelle decided to write the sequence of four successive banquets so that the story could take place at various stages of Thibaud IV’s adventurous life and weave in several plot threads. To create this sequence, the actress relied on her experience of radio plays that had previously been recorded for France Culture. “I like being restricted by certain constraints in the work that I do, in the same way as all the equations I enjoy solving,” she explains. 

Her starting point was immersing herself in research work on Thibaud IV, the Counts of Champagne dynasty and the Middle Ages. “The story had to be historically accurate without being boring,” she points out. “This is what made it the most challenging piece of writing that I’ve ever been tasked with. I was passionate about what I read and what I learned about this period of history, with the invaluable support of Patrick Demouy, who answered my questions and provided me with new reading material.” Not only did the whole thing have to be documented, but it also had to tell a story infused with humour. “That’s why I really enjoyed creating the two gossipy characters, Lady Isabeau and Lady Pétronille.”

Experience 'At the table of Thibaud IV', Demeure des Comtes de Champagne

“The next stage was voice casting, where I needed to find sufficiently recognisable yet dissimilar voices so that the audience wouldn’t have any problems in identifying the various characters.” There were a few back and forths with Pierre-Alexandre (alias Yuksek) to ensure that his compositions combined perfectly with the voices and with Alla Francesca’s covers of songs written by Thibaud IV. It was a balancing act, remaining true to the history of Thibaud IV on the one hand, and being part of a decidedly contemporary audio universe on the other. 

“It was lovely working with Armelle,” says producer and sound creator Cédric Aussir, a name that Radio France listeners will be familiar with. “She chose the voices incredibly well, it’s remarkable. She has a very well-known voice that the people taking part in this experience will recognise. I really like the idea of that familiarity with a voice, as it establishes a connection from the get-go.” 

“At the table of Thibaud IV” has now been installed at the Residence and is ready to welcome both French and foreign visitors. An English version has been recorded. “It’s mad to think that I chose the voices without ever actually meeting the actors,” Armelle recalls. “When ‘Thibaud’ first entered the studio, I just knew it was him. He bore such a close resemblance to how I pictured the character in my head.” Discovering Thibaud IV is one of the many experiences she has taken away from this journey. “I didn’t know him, but I found myself captivated by him. He was a very likeable man, gifted with a great deal of sensitivity. I get the sense that for a very long time he played the role that people expected him to play, that of warrior and sovereign, before showing his true colours.” His relationship with Blanche de Castille remains an enigma, with no one knowing if it was purely platonic. “I had no idea how prominent a figure he was at the time, in this pivotal period that preceded Saint Louis’ reign.” 

Since completing the project, the actress has seen medieval buildings in a whole new light. “I hadn’t paid them much attention before, I have to admit. These days they have much more of an effect on me.” Armelle maintains that while she drinks relatively little champagne, she opts for quality wine on special occasions. “As far as I’m concerned, drinking this wine is a form of celebration, like an alignment of the planets between the food and the company, a wonderful moment to share with loved ones.”

To book a space at the experience, click here

Text : Cyrille Jouanno
Cover photograph : Armelle © Pascal Ito
Photographs of the Comtes de Champagne Residence : © Louis Terran