We’ve all been there: the “fun for all the family” entertainment consisting of a bubble-blowing clown who finds pennies behind your ears. It’s the stuff that kids’ summers are made of, right? Well, if you go down to the South Bank this month, you’re in for a big surprise.
Back for another year, Cirque Invisible has pitched its metaphorical tent in the Queen Elizabeth Hall for three weeks. The two unlikely stars of this all-ages show are Jean-Baptiste Thierree, a sprightly septuagenarian with a basic grasp of English and his wife Victoria Chaplin, daughter of the clown prince himself and a year off being eligible for a Freedom Pass. They are renowned animal lovers and eccentrics who are more likely to give over their dressing room to their performing rabbits and ducks than to give interviews.
Both bring very different elements to the show and are rarely on stage together. The two performers take turns to present short pieces. Jean-Baptiste brings on a succession of suitcases, each with a themed outfit, from which he produces a wide array of props and tricks; Victoria dances around with parasols or as an animal before transforming herself into something else entirely; Jean-Baptiste pops on for sight gag after sight gag; Victoria walks onto a tightrope and does the splits; Jean-Baptiste sings a song in French aided by puppets built into his boots (and, ahem, elsewhere); Victoria whizzes around the stage like a velvet dalek. The audience never knows what to next expect and whether they will be laughing or gawping or both; in one scene, Jean-Baptiste disappears a couple of common-or-garden rabbits only to produce in their place a giant rabbit which he lets amble about on stage, sniffing the air as it does, while he works on other magic tricks. We spotted notoriously grumpy thespian Steven Berkoff in the audience and even he must have chuckled at this point.
There are some complex illusions and allusions to classics of modern French cinema like Amelie or Belleville Rendezvous, for example when Victoria plays us a tune using her costume made of glasses, pots and pans. Both of those films are whimsical masterpieces and, indeed, Cirque Invisible swims along on a wave of whimsy but it is never twee or saccharine. Clowning, bubble blowing and sleight of hand all play a part in this excellent show but Jean-Baptiste and Victoria have given them, and circus itself, inventive twists which go some way to explaining the longevity of this show.
No still photograph could do this duo justice but this trailer goes some way to showing their appeal. The show may be billed as “family entertainment” but it really is too good just for the kids. The show runs until August 25 and tickets are available from £15 here.
Photo (c) Cirque Invisible