Interminable, intellectually pretentious and self-indulgent, former circus performer James Thiérrée’s Room produced by his own Swiss Compagnie du Hanneton, is presented as physical theatre with musicians and dancers but it defies category. Purporting to have no meaning, this rambling show justifies itself as embracing chaos. There are also some magical moments, a moment long, circus acts or stunning visual creations but they hardly relieve the sea of tedium.
‘Why?’ Answer: ‘Because’.
Although conceived before lockdown, the symbolism of walls closing in has poignancy now. The tall walls of the set continually move, are re-positioned, taken down and put up, even turning to reveal the stage hands behind, so the mechanism of the show is part of it. But the moves are random and it becomes repetitious. Likewise the musicians/dancers enter randomly doing silly walks, or stand twitching, shout at Thiérrée and walk off. If you like pratfalls, silly walks and people shouting for no reason, this is the show for you. John Cleese comes to mind, or even Charlie Chaplin and his famous walk. Incidentally Chaplin is Thiérrée’s grandfather; but unlike his famous grandfather, there is no charming characterisation in any of this show’s silly walks. Likewise, it suggests the parade in Fellini’s 8½ but again, whereas the stunning stylisation portrays extraordinary characters in Fellini, there is none of that here.
On the plus side, the musicians’ skill, when allowed to play towards the end of the show, is amazing, especially the voice of Camille Constantin. Mostly their talent is wasted, just unfunny business with the instruments which fails to amuse, apart from the euphonium which turns into a hilarious panting dog. Also there is the extraordinary skill of acrobatic performances, such as two girls spinning on a rope, one girl’s long dress twirling below, a sequinned character literally climbing the walls, the set’s ceiling spinning on a rope. A giant sequinned, sparkling armadillo-like creature’s random appearance is a highlight. Apparently the company’s name of Hanneton means the name of an iridescent creature and some kind of creature appears in all his shows.
The humour is few and far between but occasionally bursts out such as a woman in a voluminous white dress that threatens to envelop her and other people and does; a phone that continually rings and interrupts the show, until Thiérrée eventually solves it by leaving it off the hook, some verbal jokes such as ‘What is the meaning of blah, blah, blah?’ (Never answered, of course.) And the continual question behind the show: ‘Why?’ Answer: ‘Because’.
So there you have it, but it does not justify the random repetition. Hanneton can also mean ‘scatter-brain’ and this certainly describes the lack of structure in this show. There is also a profound misunderstanding of what is theatre, breaking the first rule: do not bore your audience. Billed as 1 hour 45 mins, the night I went to it started late and overran by 70 mins. Unforgivable.
Brought up in a travelling circus family, and performing from the age of four, Thiérrée’s strength is circus. Perhaps he should stick to it.