RAOUL – CONOR MACKENZIE
Raoul is a performance by James Thierree, the French born grandson of Charlie Chaplin. What is the performance about? There is no text as we know it, no written play but a series of sounds and the most extraordinary stage movement I’ve ever seen. It is hard to define and perhaps what is more important is the physical presence rather than a search for meaning. The scene opens on a set which is a mixture of a wigwam and a shipwreck. The white cloth hangs with an echo of the cobwebs of “Great Expectations” but does this space - a man’s home - prove to be his castle or his prison? This electrifying performance was held at the Regal Theatre in Subiaco.
Raoul is Everyman. We are all scared of the world, we have problems finding a comfortable place to rest, a chair to sit on. He is humanity. There are echoes of the Absurd Drama created after the Second World War. When he examines his feet in the opening we think of the tramps in “Waiting for Godot”. Is Raoul a survivor after a war? What is he waiting for? He seems to struggle to stay and to go.
In the course of the performance, he falls from a 14 foot height in slow motion, wrestles with his reflection, is buffeted by imaginary winds or waves, and dances with giant puppet-creatures. He is the epitome of sadness and loneliness. He is the archetype clown whose sad emotions are underscored by Shubert. Raoul has a never ending bin – in the style of Mary Poppin’s handbag that somehow seems to dispose of all his pocessions. The humour in this piece makes us humans seem belligerent and mean for we laugh at him – but aren’t we laughing at ourselves? The moment in the play where Raoul shoves his head inside the empty picture frame and smiles affably just shows how clueless the poor man is and how desperate one can get. As an audience we laugh and laugh and laugh for that is what James wants us to do. There is the otherworldly vein which comes out in this supernatural performance. There are ghostly apparitions such as fossilised birds, a jellyfish, and a life sized elephant soft as cotton wool, all drifting across the stage. Are they real or part of his imagination? Interestingly they were designed by his mother! One of the many entertaining parts of the play is when Raoul tries to explain to the enormous fish to dive into the fish bowl which is the size of two fists put together. (The fish obviously declines the offer.)
This was physical theatre at its best performed by an extraordinary man at the very height of his multi-faceted powers. This is the success of the piece, not its intellectual meaning. Both the audience and Raoul celebrated what it is to be human. Bravo – James Thierree!