Written by Hatti Whitman
Photos and illustrations by Richard Haughton
27 Sunday 27th November 2011

Murmurs first tripped its way across the French stage in Spring 2011, apparently to the delight of all who saw it. Described as being halfway between an illusionist’s act and an onstage dream, it’s sure to be an electrifying experience for any keen theatre-goer, and is among the highlights of the Southbank Centre’s Winter Festival. Though it lacks the big-budget spectacle of shows such as Cirque du Soleil, this is an original and witty application of the illusionist’s crafts by a team who have been honing their shows since the 70s (when Victoria Thierrée Chaplin and her husband Jean-Baptiste Thierrée put on Le Cirque Invisible, one of the key inspirations for the original Cirque du Soleil).

The last time Britain saw Aurélia Thierrée onstage was during the 2007 tour of Aurélia’s Oratorio, a similarly conceived piece that ironized its own use of circus trickery and illusion by cleverly revealing the secrets behind some of its tricks – but kept the most spectacular up its sleeve. There was a lot of buzz at the time about sequences including Thierrée’s head and limbs emerging in physically impossible ways from the drawers of a large trunk; the heroine being flown by a kite; and a pair of red velvet stage curtains falling in love. The coup-de-théâtre however was when a model train appeared to run right through Thierrée’s stomach, as she looked on in amazement.

Very witty, very French

It looks as though Murmurs will be in much the same vein. Previews have shown Aurélia Thierrée clambering up the outside of set-pieces made to look like old Parisian buildings with no visible means of support; balancing with the grace of a dancer on an illogical pile of boxes; being eaten by a bubblewrap monster; interacting with wallpaper that appears to shiver with laughter. There are supporting characters but it is Thierrée, fey and delicate, who catches the audience's imagination and holds their attention as she navigates her way through a twisted mirror-world pursued by menacing, white-clad figures and one particularly irate chap waving a clipboard.

This is one of the most original and engaging theatre pieces to go on show this winter season, and it’s sure to be worth a look-in, as are many of the other shows on the bill for the Southbank Centre's Winter Festival.

Murmurs is at the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall from 20 Dec to 2 Jan 2012. For more information visit the Southbank Centre website.

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