Early in James Thiérrée's Au Revoir Parapluie (Goodbye Umbrella), a great mass of ropes is dangled onto the stage. It looks both industrial and organic. Hanging from a giant metal hook, the ropes are like lianas, or like a massive tree trunk. Performers push between strands, climb up inside the trunk, stick arms and legs out from the depths of the ropes. Then Magnus Jakobsson runs up to the rope trunk. Instead of pushing through, he bounces right off, a walloping impact that leaves him flat on the stage.
Thiérrée has a gift for big, bold images that change as you watch them. A member of a celebrated circus family, and grandson of Charlie Chaplin, Thiérrée's shows are a blend of illusion, acrobatics and aerialism. The mix is dreamlike.
That can be a tricky thing to execute on stage. It's too easy for illusionist shows to slide into self-indulgence. Au Revoir Parapluie has a scale and ambition that keeps it moving, but it's still too long, and too rambling. But the performances are extraordinary, and so are many of Thiérrée's images.
Having swung back and forth on a rocking chair, Thiérrée slides to the floor and goes on rocking. The movement exactly echoes the chair's rhythm: he swings from a shoulderstand up onto his feet, then dips easily back again. The physical skill is extraordinary. Transitions vanish: gravity seems to lose its grip.
The props for this show are not-quite-everyday objects. Costumes run to red velvet, with hints of music hall glamour. The performers wrestle with tennis racquets, parasols, chairs and an extraordinary wheeled ladder, a tilting Heath Robinson machine with platforms, hand cranks and – for some reason – a pair of scythes.
As the singer Maria Sendow bursts into gravely Spanish song, the performers shake the ropes, rippling different strands to match her pitch and tone. At one point Sendow shoots them a reproving look, and they hastily switch ropes: they'd gone out of tune. Thiérrée lip-syncs a violin solo, mouth and gestures matching each gypsy swoop and dash.
Besides climbing up the rope tree, the performers cross the stage overhead, setting more hooks swinging and moving from one to another.
Au revoir Parapluie does lose focus. An hour in, the performers start ripping up the floor, building a new set with reeds growing around the new, shiny space. The picture is attractive, but by then it was harder to care about it. There's only so much dreaminess you can take in at one sitting.
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