The Toad Knew

  • Physical Theatre
  • Creator, scenography and original music: James Thierrée – Compagnie du Hanneton
  • Sadler’s Wells, London
  • 3-7 May 2017
  • Review by Caroline Perret and Lucien Asbury-Perret (12)
  • 7 May 2017
The Toad Knew
3.0Reviewer's Rating

Within a decadent fairly tale set and haunting music, the six characters in James Thierrée’s new show, “The Toad Knew”, present the audience with acrobatic finesse – delivered by aerialist Thi Mai Nguyen and contortionist Valérie Doucet – and surreal humour.

With a freedom typical of improvisation, Thierrée has twisted everyday situations and pushed them to their highest level of absurdity, no doubt as an homage to his grand-father Charlie Chaplin: a piano plays itself; an hair spray loses its head; a door-mat welcomes over-enthusiastic users; two dancers are glued together and do not seem to be able to separate, only to finally share a romantic dance; plates magically appear and disappear.

The fun and emotion occur for the audience in the existential space explored by Thierrée between performer and object, and also between the performers themselves and their interactions: the complicit looking in the eye, the playful teasing and tickling, the occasional awkwardness of it.

The show is not only full of movement, but also has complex lighting and mechanical marvels. Indeed, the set, designed by the Compagnie, took months to built and refine, as it followed and experimental process and includes complex structures, in particular the spiral staircase and floating giant mobile. The later has a certain talismanic quality, suggestive of magic and esotericism. Yet, it is difficult to find its precise meaning.

And, despite all of its mesmerising components, it is the issue with the whole show: while it seems to come from a precise mental impression from its creator, it unfortunately makes very little sense to its audience, and despite expectations, is very disappointing. In this sense, it echoes James Thierrée’s own presentation of the show: “In this play, there are tiny mysteries that will swallow up big mysteries: that is clear”.

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