James Thiérrée describes Tabac Rouge as a choreodrama; a”choreographed drama” where actors, dancers and contortionists mix with a gaggle of silly walks, disobedient body parts, mimed arguments, writhing and falling and lead us into a phantasmagorical machine – sometimes disturbing, sometimes jocular but most definitely perplexing. James Thiérrée himself is mystified by his own show, a mille-feuille, as he calls it, “about desire, power and systems and mechanisms of society, and of how people organise themselves.”
The show begins with a “smoker”, a character playing with his cigarette and creates a large cloud that produces a kind of big bang. The music stops and it all starts: “And the world was.” – “God is a smoker! … “. The world is a huge machine, a wall made of metal, mirrors, pipes and cables. It is populated by female dancers who swarm around their pipe-puffing monarch, the “Personnage”, and are kept in place by a steely male deputy. Heterogeneous objects invade the stage space. The overall effect is that of a nightmarish, mechanical, post-apocalyptic universe, reminding Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s film La cité des enfants perdus. The “Personnage”, the leader, played by James Thiérrée is autocratic, clownish, and occasionally feeble, both in body and in mind; a captor and a captive, it seems, in his own world.
Despite the fact that the sheer physicality of the performances and the grim, evocative scenes capture the audience, the overall feeling is that of perplexity and ennui. What, exactly, is happening?! Is it all in the old man’s mind? Is it a paradigm of a totalitarian regime made from the staff of nightmares or just a conjured up dystopian world? Is the old man a ruthless ruler grasping at his dwindling power or is he desperately trying to free himself from the clasps of his own rule and spend his old age serenely smoking his pipe?
The complex set, the energy and physicality of the performers, the diverse soundtrack are undermined by the overall incoherence and the viewer instead of mesmerised is just left wandering.