I loath one man shows, with a passion. It’s like seeing someone you do not wish to see walking along the street and you quickly duck across to the other side of the road just to avoid them. I go to great lengths to avoid having much contact with a show or performance that lacks two people. The reason behind this is that a single person, a ‘one-man show’ just has the huge ability to fall onto its head. There is a defined make or break moment in each one man performance I’ve ever seen. That moment of, “Can this person actually keep me entertained for the whole running time… yes? No.”
With this in mind, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by Raul at the Barbican Centre by the notorious James Thiérrée. For those that don’t know who this man is, (and don’t worry, I equally did not know until recently), he happens to be grandson of Charlie Chaplin, and the son of Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée. If anything, there was a lot to live up to in this performance, and I have to say, it was certainly one to catch my imagination.
A one-man show in the Barbican Theatre, that great expanse of a stage, it seemed all too surreal, or quite possibly the start of something I might regret watching. However, upon taking my seat, it became clear that this wasn’t just your average show.
Huge white sheets, suspended from the flies, hung, drapped over piping, an odd assortment of shapes and sizes poking out in all directions from the stage that dominated every inch of the immense stage that is the Barbican Theatre. James Thiérrée suddenly appears running through the audience, climbing across seats before making his way up to the expanse of white sheets before him. With momentous music, and a sweeping of his arms, the sheets suddenly retract in a beautiful manner revealing a lead pipe structure. It is at this moment that I let out my first of many “wow”‘s.
Raoul is an odd performance piece, part comedy, part mime, a mixture of trickery of the eye and spectacular visual effects. Raoul is a symphony for the eyes. An oxymoron if you please. It is both spectacular in form as it is precise in concentrated details. Leading the eye to both be marveled in sheer size of visionary images and squint equally at small magical movements.
Admittedly the piece takes a while to get into, not because it is hard to watch, or tiresome. It is more understanding the way that Thiérrée moves around the space, the silent dialogue and clowning elements, it is essentially understanding the language he is using. With Raoul you have to drop all sense of intelligence, and allow yourself to be immersed inside a world of true imagination.
Thiérrée performs with strength and comic ability, but equally there is a thorough form of training and skill that he has with his body. Watching him send ripples around his body is quite fascinating, if a little odd to conceive.
Thiérrée creates a strange, mysterious world to which the spectator has to loose all senses and thought and enjoy a spectacle of epic proportions.
There are moments within Raoul where I was left wondering “How are they doing that?”, especially with the stage design, which is at times breathtaking.
The house made from large piping during the course of the 75 minute performance slowly gets dismantled in explosive creative ways. Towards the start of the piece the front of this structure just falls apart, the large piping narrowly missing those seating in the front row (many a gasp of horror during this moment).
There is another breath taking moment where the back wall of piping seems to explode outwards as it magically gets lifted upwards away from the stage looking like a star that has descended to earth.
The music equally plays a huge part within this performance, it shapes emotions and atmospheres, it booms across the Barbican Theatre, and tinkles in all corners. It is clear that Thiérrée’s piece isn’t just about himself, it is a much larger version of a world he is creating. The sounds that echo through the theatre combined with the stage trickery and imagination makes your head pound with chaotic excitement.
The show even features a large elephant, a strange fish that swims across the stage and a large puppet bird. The various materials and devices used is endless, and brilliantly done.
A one-man show by James Thiérrée is not exactly what I expected, that is for sure. Thiérrée is talented, and rightly so, given his upbringing around circuses and learning the tricks of the trade from his family. He is a spectacle himself, who manages to so easily switch between the clowning elements to the sheer physical ability of his body. He appears to have no limits. Throwing himself across the stage, onto piping, and even at one point flies across the stage and out into the audience.
Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed myself in this performance, it did take me a while to get actively engaged in this. It’s bizarre. Certainly is not for everyone. Yet equally it is challenging and works wonders for the eyes. But Thiérrée still has a way to go before I will gladly give him a standing ovation such as the one that occurred on the night I saw Raoul, but that is a pet hate of mine.
Raoul is spectacular, but how far does it go to keep us engaged?
Raoul is on at the Barbican Centre until the 24th October. See their website for more details.