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Le Cirque Invisible at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Posted on August 11, 2009

Husband and wife duo Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée and Victoria Chaplin are, on the face of it, an odd pairing. He is your archetypal barmy old man with a head of unruly white curls, bulging eyes and a grin so wide it looks as though it’s been drawn on; she is the silent, ageless beauty with long, floating black hair and a face that remains set in a state of wide-eyed wonderment throughout Le Cirque Invisible. It’s these stark contrasts that form the backbone of this two-hour show. The format is simple: in an alternating series of short appearances the two take turns to entertain, Thiérrée with his own brand of madcap magic, Chaplin with a transformative art that’s less easily defined.

Thiérrée tells us in gabbled French that he is going to conjure a dog, but after much fanfare – and much to the audience’s delight – what actually transpires is an ominous looking brown quantity. Chaplin’s first entrance is within the folds of a sort of skating tepee, her head occasionally surfacing before being swallowed up again to continue gliding around the stage, tipping from side to side like a graceful Weeble.

Later, Thiérrée mimes to Bizet’s “Kingfisher” with his knees, and – dressed in head-to-toe black and white stripes – enlists the audience’s help in blowing over an inflatable zebra. In-between, Chaplin brings a collection of parasols to life as love-struck sea creatures, or becomes a melodious one-woman band, playing an outfit fashioned from crockery.

Chaplin’s costume transformations are the evening’s highlights: we watch as she slowly and systematically re-positions a hairpiece, a bodice, a skirt, gradually metamorphosing from aristocratic woman to trotting horse, or quietly sipping tea at a table one minute, and re-fashioning her surroundings to exit the stage by dragon-drawn cart the next.

There are elements of traditional circus – tight-wire, unicycle, and copious amounts of small, fluffy animals – but it’s these moments of playful creativity that reveal the combined genius of the partnership. Together these veteran entertainers have produced work for almost 40 years, and thankfully they show no signs of growing up any time soon.

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