Queen Elizabeth Hall, London; December20, 2011
Physical theatre has always been a fairly rarified experience in the UK: not quite dance, not quite circus, but not “straight” theatre, it fits into its own small niche and tends not to attract too much attention.
Maybe it is the connection with the late, great Charlie Chaplin that has attracted most attention, but “Murmurs” could be the work that puts this genre firmly on the arts scene map.
It is a pity that the full title, “Murmures des Murs”, has been dropped (presumably it was deemed that the audience would not understand the French), because this is a show about walls, real and imagined, a very physical evocation of what happens inside the head.
It is set in a European suburban dystopia, the protagonists moving, losing each other, relocating, hiding and revealing themselves. The physicality is nothing short of astonishing: image “Tom and Jerry” but with actual, humans doing it for real. Now image sitting in a chair with your leg crossed across your lap and your elbow resting on a table - except that there is no chair. Not so much sleight of hand but sleight of body.
The sets “eat” people and disgorge them from frightening heights and impossible windows. A word to the wise - never be fooled by the apparent cuteness of bubble wrap/step ladder monsters. Cardboard boxes do the same; an apparently animated box disgorging a person after rubbery perambulations across the stage that look as if they could simply not be made by a human with a skeleton.
There are moments of comedy, engendered by surprise as much as humour but the air is one of melancholy so typical of European clowning and indeed of Charlie Chaplin. A debt is owed also to the structuralists who would no doubt have a field day with this work. The ending almost deconstructs itself as we see props and flats stripped bare and signs and signifiers abound.
Aurelia Thierree is a willow wand who shows in the tangos and the waltz that she could easily turn her talents to “pure” dance. The whole company exude a quiet projection that travels well over the footlights but draws one in to the contemplative atmosphere to provide a thoughtful evening amongst seasonal jollities.