City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

EIF 2016, The Toad Knew, King’s Theatre, Review

By Irene Brown - Posted on 25 August 2016

Show details
King's Theatre
Compagnie du Hanneton in a co-production with Théâtre de Carouge -Atelier de Genève, Célestins, Théâtre de Lyon, Radiant Bellevue, Sadlers Wells Lond
Running time: 
James Thiérrée (creator, scenography and original music), Thomas Delot (sound), Alex Hardellet and James Thiérrée (lighting), Pascaline Chavanne (costumes), Victoria Thiérrée (puppet)
James Thiérrée, Valérie Doucet, Samuel Dutetrte, Mariama, Yann Nédélec, Thi Mai Nguyen

James Thiérrée, acrobat, clown, actor, illusionist, musician, has pockets bursting at the seams with artistic credentials. And no wonder. He is the son of Victoria Chaplin, grandson of Charlie Chaplin, great grandson of Eugene O’Neill and has been steeped in circus life since birth. In 1998 he formed Compagnie du Hanneton, producing a catalogue of spectacular shows with them. Thiérrée makes his Scottish debut with this latest show The Toad Knew whose original title is La grenouille avait raison, so not a straight translation.

When the lush but slightly battered red curtain begins to tumble from above instead of rising, before trailing itself across the stage then becoming magically decked around singer Mariama, its subversion signals that something well out of the ordinary is about to happen.
The stage has an other- worldly feel like a soft cave created by massive drapes. From the centre hangs a set of colour changing lamps suspended by wires that could be ‘water lilies’ but attempt to find a meaning at your peril. It defies interpretation. Rather approach it with the openness with which it is created. As Dorothy Max Parker describes Thiérrée’s work, it is “… a theatre of the senses” yet one created with enormous dedicated discipline.

Among the magic and theatrical wizardry that words fail to get near, there’s a spinning spiral staircase going who knows where; a water tank that could give Houdini food for thought; a bizarre revolving contraption that would be a dream in an adventure playground. This is not a children’s show, though parts are like a child’s fantasy book brought to life, yet squeals of delighted laughter came from some very young audience members who could appreciate the supreme clowning skills on display, where the ghost of Thiérrée’s grandfather was definitely on stage.

In costumes that looks as though they’ve been spun from dust, the two female performers Valérie Doucet and Thi Mai Nguyen defy normal capabilities with their acrobatics and elastic physicality. At times their bodies seem to meld taking on new and maybe even froglike shapes! It’s difficult to see who’s who from the tapsalteerie programme images, but whichever of these two appears at first slumped at the piano manages to seem weightless and as if she just might levitate at times!

A spectacle like no other, The Toad Knew is performed and created with all- round heart stopping brilliance and star soaring imagination and with a surprise entry at the end (no spoilers!) that astounds. It is strange, exquisite, holds shades of gothic yet is laced with humour and manages to utterly enthral. In my 2014 review of Tabac Rouge I said, “Maybe one day, James Thiérrée will bring one of his extraordinary shows to Scotland. Cometh the day…”. The many curtain calls, filled with generosity and openness and including some beautiful marionette moves from Thiérrée, are testament to the company’s Scottish appearance as a true gift from the gods. Ferliefull - merci!

24- 28 August at 8pm