This was a hugely engaging exploration of the the childhood of Jephan de Villiers, a French sculptor born in 1940. Presented by Belgian group ‘Théâtre d’un Jour’ in the crescent outside the Institut Français d’Écosse, this piece fused music, acrobatics, puppetry, circus and live music to tell the story of Jephan’s start to life dogged by ill health. The setting, in the tent in the crescent, had the benefit of the sound of raindrops tapping on the canopy adding to the ambience.
Rare in theatre these days, but genuinely present in this piece was the fear for one’s life. Probably deriving from the opening scene when a man dragged an axe out and then tried to slam it into a stump only for it to go flying. A lucky audience member caught it, handle-side and we all gasped a sigh of relief. Who knew if that was planned? This was followed by the same axe, attached to the man’s wrist by a piece of string being spun around faster and faster – the audience, myself included, notably retreated into their seats. The same thing happened when they swung huge sticks around, coming within inches of the front rows’ faces. Nothing like the threat of personal injury to liven up a show!
The acrobatics, however, were of the highest calibre and with only the dirt floor to soften a potential fall, I didn’t just fear for my life, but for those of the performers. This is not to say they seemed amateur or risked an accident. I say it only because they were doing things in acrobatics I had not seen before. Three people on top of each other, flinging someone through the air only to catch them the other way round, caused gasps from the audience.
If I actually had to explain the piece, however, I would struggle. A puppet child, representing Jephan, explored the dirt floor whilst things took place beside him, ropes flying in, acrobats spinning about, the cellist playing, all representations of ideas forming in the ill young artist’s mind? The mood music from the cellist was perfectly set alongside the piece and she herself was not afraid to join in the acrobatics adding more layers to this rich and striking piece.
A great show from this Belgian group! You will have to see it yourself to understand it. But do! This is not one to miss!
Highlight of the show – The cellist continuing to play whilst being carried above the heads of two of the acrobats. “Original” said the 90-year-old in front of me. If it was for him, it certainly was for me. Fantastique!