James Thiérrée, “Raoul”: Unsettling

"Where the hell have I left my Prozaaaac?"

"Where the hell have I left my Prozaaaac?"

Give it a try if… You are curious about the latest developments of the performing arts.

Steer clear if… You are looking for a quiet evening.

Hey, you know what? God was in Barcelona… Yep, you missed it! Or at least, so must have thought the hundreds of people who – as the curtains of Teatre Nacional de Catalunya were drawn on “Raoul”, the latest show by James Thiérrée – sprang up from their seats in unison for one of the most resolute and extensive standing ovations I’ve witnessed in my life. And there I was, clapping and cheering among them, despite having several reservations about the piece – so much so that I had been wanting to leave the theater for at least an hour. Bizarre, huh?

A Demanding Legacy

Don't try this at home

Don't try this at home

Life must be quite bizarre indeed when your grandfather was called Charlie Chaplin, your great-grandfather Eugene O’Neill, and you first climbed onstage at age 4 to act in your parents’ contemporary circus show. Almost too much to bear, perhaps? Several pictures of James seem to reveal a deep, even troubled sensitivity, but somehow he must have managed by digging deeper into the mystery of creativity; through the years he has developed his own artistic brand which blends mime, dance, acrobatics and a lot more, to growing critical acclaim.

I Who?

"Cheese!"

"Cheese!"

Quite tellingly, “Raoul” is an (almost) one-man show focused on the confusion about the self and its image in relationship to the outside world. Its hero comes back to his segregated home after a journey, only to find that it has been expropriated by… His alter ego. It is the start of a quest which spans the whole spectrum from excruciating to exhilarating; Thiérrée bares his soul and conducts every muscle of his body as a freaky orchestra, plunging the viewer into the abyss of Raoul’s personality.

A Tad Too Much

As I said, watching this show was a bit of a challenge for me. Did I just see too much of myself in the character? His myriad impulses, bursting in all directions without the slightest pause, were like slaps on my face and stitches in my heart; not to mention the Tim Burtonesque aesthetics, which left me craving for fresh air. In the end, especially after the gut-wrenching poetry of the final scene, I couldn’t help but acknowledge Thiérrée’s mastery (watch out for him reaching unimaginable heights in a few years’ time) – but I believe he may have fallen into the trap of equating form and content, turning a show about psychosis into a quasi-psychotic show. See you next time, dear James.

UPS score (Utmost Perfection Scale): 7.5/10 + standing ovation

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