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Just as this show transferred to Paris, James Thiérrée and his team heard they had won France’s national Molière award for the best regional production this year. Not that it made any impact on ticket sales: the run had long sold out to a public hooked on the Compagnie de l’Hanneton’s eclectic mix of mime, circus, acrobatics and dance.

Renewing a successful formula is always a challenge. Play it safe and you risk growing stale; try something new and you may disappoint faithful followers. So I was curious to see so much experimentation under way in the company’s third show, even if it was camouflaged by favourite devices.

True, Thiérrée’s hallmarks are all present and correct: constant wit and inventiveness, a seamless mix of performance techniques, fantastical interface of man and everyday objects. The stage is dominated by a vast pillar of twisted ropes that spins like a fountain in reverse, tangles into a dense umbilical column, imprisons and spews out its victims, turns into a mollusc that swallows its prey. A vague sense of threat emanates from massive suspended hooks and the grim reaper’s scythe. A lake and reedbeds are conjured up with balletic simplicity. A vast, segmented fish unfolds to reveal a singer. A hurled shuttlecock multiplies miraculously, and turns into magical sparkling rain.

What’s new is the human dimension. For the first time we see tentative characterisation of the various performers and the introduction of a skeleton storyline involving loss and quest for elusive loved ones. It’s a promising move to give more form and depth to these freewheeling creations but wasn’t followed through to its full potential. So although individual performances are excellent, notably the funnyman Magnus Jakobsson and dancers Kaori Ito and Satchie Noro, Thiérrée limits the scope for intimacy by cutting these scenes into short sequences separated by visual and comic fireworks. At times the performers can seem secondary to the trappings on stage.

It will be interesting to see where someone as creative as Thiérrée goes next with this more theatrical approach. This production was a slightly awkward compromise but it had the exciting feeling of work in progress.
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