Murmurs, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London


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The Independent Culture

At the start of Murmurs, we see illusionist and performer Aurélia Thierrée with her life in boxes, idly popping bubble wrap.

By the end, she, her surroundings and even the bubble wrap have transformed themselves, boxes becoming an escape route as the bubbles bite back.

Murmurs is the follow-up to international hit Aurélia’s Oratorio. As before, Thierrée is directed by her mother, the circus artist Victoria Thierrée Chaplin (Aurélia is Charlie’s granddaughter: acrobatic performance runs in the family). The new show starts with the everyday, and spins it into fantasy.

Trying to fit a vase into its box, Thierrée smashes bits off it with a hammer, then goes on wrapping box and vase together. A delivery man keeps popping up, asking her to sign the form on his clipboard; she keeps retreating. She dives into the windows of houses painted on the scenery, scrambling up two-dimensional walls and drainpipes. A swathe of bubble wrap becomes a polar bear, drawing her in with long paws.

Magnus Jakobsson’s delivery man tries to keep up with her, wanting to return abandoned items of clothing and getting into his own tangles with the furniture. Jaime Martinez is a mercurial figure, tap dancing upside down in a doorway or leading Thierrée through a fast tango and a magical dance across a table, softly lit with fairy lights.

At first, the way she leans over the edge looks like perfect balance. As her swoops become ever more daring, you realise that she must be on wires. The show keeps twisting images, letting you guess how it’s done, then twisting again.

Other figures pop up and vanish. When you look closer, the face and beak of a bird-headed man are really a set of bellows, another prop from the first scene. The figure strikes a metal bowl against its own beak, swinging a bottle to make a blowing sound. As Thierrée and her cast join in with their own bottles, they synchronise with baroque music played on the soundtrack.

Murmurs unravels itself on purpose, but sometimes trips over its own trailing threads. The work sags when it takes too long over changing scenery, or pushes too hard into whimsy. The process of illusion is part of the fun, but can mean too much setup and not enough punchline.

The most extraordinary effect is one of the simplest. Thierrée climbs onto a pile of cardboard boxes to unscrew a lightbulb. The pile looks too unsteady to bear her weight, so I thought it must be fixed in place. She steps back down – and the box falls down behind her. It makes you wonder what you’ve just seen: illusion, or perfect balance? Either way, it’s miraculous.

Until 2 January. Box office 0844 875 0073