Opéra Comique Paris, France; July 25, 2014.

Grace Milandou

'Raoul'.  Photo © Richard Haughton

‘Raoul’.
Photo © Richard Haughton

A boat sits onstage. Sails open like curtains to reveal a structure made of metallic tubes. The action is set somewhere deep in the sea, though we could just as well be floating on a white cloud. A man storms in, pushes and knocks on the structure while he shouts and calls “Raoul! Raoul!” He looks like a vagabond, dressed in raggedy clothed and a big grey coat. As he keeps kicking, the structure partly falls down. The fallen ‘wall’ opens to a small cosy room where a man is seating in an armchair, listening to an old LP. He turns and smiles, there’s Thierrée/Raoul.

James Thierrée is an artist of a noble lineage. Both his parents are artists, pioneers of French modern circus. They are still touring with their “cirque imaginaire”. His grand father is the legendary actor Charlie Chaplin. When Thierrée dances, he sometimes includes a routine that recalls Charlie Chaplin’s dance steps at the end of the movie “Modern Times”. His large clothes and his impersonation of an eternal vagabond clown is also a reminder of his grand father’s art. His mother is the hands behind his phantasmagorical visions. It is she who transforms everyday objects and stuffed animals to compare with the visions of the main character in Michel Gondry’s “The science of sleep”, bringing them to life in her son’s plays.

Still, Thierrée manages to create a singular world of his own in which he evolves with his company: La Compagnie du Hanneton (The cockchafer’s company). Difficult to box, they navigate between modern dance, contemporary circus, theatre and mime, taking down the barriers between art forms in thematic semi narrative shows.

'Raoul'. Photo © Richard Haughton

‘Raoul’.
Photo © Richard Haughton

Unlike many of Thierrée’s characters, Raoul has a name. I suppose the author simply liked the sound of it. He and his friend are lookalikes, and it is difficult to tell the two men apart. He lives in a shipwreck at the bottom of the sea. He gets visits from big fishes, plays the violin, dances and sometimes swims around. He laughs a lot, but he’s also often scared. He is a talker but barely says a word. Face, eyes and body are his means of expression. Eloquence is his body. As we dive into his world of subtle humour and minimal poetry, we realise the importance is in things we do not see. This world is meant to disappear. It all ends in nothing. As Raoul swims away, the shipwreck vanishes and his belongings are scattered into the sea. He swims everywhere: in the air and in the sea. Then he floats away, leaving us with an agreeable feeling of weightlessness.

The La Compagnie du Hanneton is currently touring with their last creation “Tabac Rouge”. Whichever show comes your way, it is a must see.