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Le Cirque Invisible

Published 5 August 2009

There is something about Le Cirque Invisible, currently playing at the Queen Elizabeth Hall,  that makes you feel it has been around forever.

Whether it is the aging props which look like relics from an antiques shop, the old fashioned charm of the performances or the simplicity of the production, Le Cirque Invisible creates an atmosphere that is a world away from the glamorous, colourful productions oozing money over the river in the West End.

But this is to its credit. Le Cirque Invisible looks a little well-worn because it is; performers Victoria Chaplin and Jean-Baptiste Thierrée have been presenting and refining this show since 1990. A surreal, deceptively simple and quirkily funny show which draws on the traditions of European theatre, circus and music hall, its shabby-chic style is part of its charm.

The couple (they have been together since Victoria, the daughter of Charlie Chaplin, eloped with Thierrée when she was 18 in 1969) have created a gentle double act in which each has a clearly defined role. He is the clown:  with erratic white hair, a never ending parade of costumes and a permanent smile upon his face he entertains the audience with a succession of endearingly innocent magic tricks and comedy skits which recall a children’s magician. Invisible juggling, conjuring (exceedingly well-behaved) rabbits and doves out of thin air and other traditional tricks are encompassed in an act which aims to amuse and entertain rather than flabbergast.

Chaplin, meanwhile, is an illusionist who uses carefully considered costumes and her thin, extremely flexible body to create a series of clever, abstract and sometime eerie images. In one scene she transforms from a 17th century lady into a horse, another sees her create a bird-like mating ritual out of a bunch of parasols, in others she is eaten by a giant sea creature, rides an elephant and disappears into a flower pot.

The props are endless, as though the pair are trying to use every item they have gathered during the decades they have performed this show. I imagine their belongings carried on a large horse-drawn dust cart which takes them from city to city in the traditions of travelling circus.

No doubt they have a very modern van and no need for a horse, but it is this sense of tradition that gives Le Cirque Invisible its unique flavour. In a city full of flashy, boisterous, attention-grabbing shows, this is a gentle, whimsical, eccentric creation which charms you with its simplicity.

CB

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