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James Thiérrée

'Veillée des Abysses'

by Ana Abad-Carles

October 5, 2005 -- Peacock Theatre, London

On Wednesday October 5, I went to see James Thiérrée’s “Veillée des Abysses.” The show had opened at the Peacock Theatre the evening before.

The poster advertising the production was promising: a surreal landscape inhabited by a man in what looked like a journey of the imagination in which familiar objects became part of an amazing composition of light and colour. The realisation of this concept was truly wonderful and the spectacle was one of the most beautiful theatrical experiences I have seen for a very long time.

The piece opened with the journey depicted on the poster -- a man travelling across the stage with several ladders and against the wind. This image of the wind propelling the characters opened and closed the show and gave the journey a cyclic dimension.  As Thiérrée explained in the programme, the beginning could be seen as the end and the end as the beginning.

Thiérrée is Charles Chaplin’s grandson. There is a perfect simplicity to his theatrical craft that touches the heart and provides the most enduring form of entertainment. There were moments when the image of Thiérrée’s grandfather was so vivid in the recreation of some of his gags on stage, that one could not help but admire the genius of Chaplin in being able to make us laugh decades later with the simplest of means.

There are five performers in the show: a soprano, a dancer/actor, an acrobat, a contortionist and a capoeira dancer. Whilst his combination of techniques seems a bit improbable, it becomes a breathtaking feast for the senses.

There is no story as such: just a journey through time and space and the relationships between the performers and themselves. “La Veillée des Abysses” is an exploration of human nature at its most touching. It shows our ability to laugh, to be awkward and childish, and this is the secret to the show’s enduring beauty. There are no big statements about human nature, just sketches taken from everyday life that highlight our ability to put ourselves in ridiculous situations even if we try to make them look grand and serious.

There were wonderful visual moments throughout the piece, but my favourite has Thiérrée playing a guardian of a gate opposite contortionist Raphaëlle Boitel’s animal-like creature. She seemed like a small lizard climbing up a gate on a sunny day, her movements had both the fluidity and the sharpness of little critters. Thiérrée chases her and the joy of his quest and her animal-like elegance created a sequence of irrepressible joy.

It was also wonderful to see the splendid acting and dancing abilities of Niklas Ek, demonstrating the beauty a mature dancer can bring on stage. In a world that focuses on youth, it was refreshingly breathtaking to see this performer acting and dancing in a way that only experience can produce.

Thiago Martins brought the technical precision of capoeira dancing through his seemingly neverending sequences of jumps and turns that gave the show a quality of physical perfection at its highest levels.

Soprano Uma Ysamat blended her skills brilliantly with the rest of the performers and her number with the piano was a delight to watch.

Finally, credit goes to Thiérrée for the whole concept of the piece and his wonderful performance throughout.

This is a show to treasure. Its simple and indelible sense of theatrical possibilities, their power to touch our hearts makes “La Veillée des Abysses” one of the best performances to be seen on the stage at present. It is funny, it is touching, it is visually stunning, it has amazing performances and, yes, like the poster, it is totally surreal.

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