Raoul, Barbican, London
Thursday 29 October 2009
Doubtless the people who applauded James Thiérrée loud and long would award him more stars than I. But would these be given out of delight or duty? For though the audience laughed as Thiérrée mimed his way through 75 winsome minutes, the laughs were scattered and never so full-bodied as to make the clapping a logical outcome
Thiérrée is a good-looking 35-year-old man whose mother, Victoria Chaplin, founded Le Cirque Invisible with his father, and Thiérrée, if not born in a trunk, first appeared on stage in a suitcase, popping his tiny legs through holes in it and running away, to the great amusement of the French. Some writers have claimed that Thiérrée has inherited the style and talent of his famous grandfather. But Charlie Chaplin's silent acting, far more inventive than his grandson's, took place in the real world. Thiérrée's occurs in a dream created for the purpose of showing off the mime's concepts, in this case the mutability of identity in a disintegrating world. Raoul, the frequently bewildered and frustrated figure in this one-man show, wrestles, in a blanket, with another, unseen actor. One man disappears, and surely the one left is the other fellow. But no! The blanket is thrown off, and the one who remains is – Raoul! Voila!
Raoul lives in a wigwam constructed of scaffolding poles which, in the course of the show, gradually collapse and slither away. It has two chairs, a gramophone, a red rug and blanket (the only spots of colour on the vast stage), and an oil drum that contains an inexhaustible supply of humorous props. Raoul impersonates a horse, then pulls out a feedbag, which he puts on. He holds a picture frame up to his face, and attempts to hang himself on the wall. He places a mechanical top on his head, but he is the one who spins! Monsieur le Mime, with such delicious wit, you are spoiling us!
Raoul has no dialogue, but does not lack sound. Excerpts from various classical pieces accompany Thiérrée's pulling himself forward by his knees or fighting off a hand that has taken on a life of its own. There are glub-glub noises when a pantomine fish enters. Thiérrée pulls a small glass bowl from his oil drum and indicates that the fish should dive into it. If I were a cruel woman, I would suggest that Thiérrée take his universal art to the Hackney Empire. Then, I fancy, we would see the last of Raoul.
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