'Murmurs' review or 'Isn't theatre magic?'
'Murmurs', conceived and directed by Victoria Thierrée Chaplin
Southbank Centre, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Wednesday 21st December
'Murmurs' kicks off within a relatively realistic setting. A young girl, with bright red shoes, sits sadly amongst her boxed up belongings. Two impatient removal men hover in the background. But then, ever so slowly, magic bubbles to the surface. Those gleaming shoes disappear, reappear and then disappear again. Reality slides away from us, transforming the stage into a world where strange creatures loom large, buildings rustle and move and people walk on air.
It is a world unrecognisable. Perhaps this sad lady (Aurélia Thierrée) is taking us on a journey through her childhood. Perhaps she's remembering everything that happened in her now empty house. Or maybe she's just sleeping. It's best not to ask too many questions. This is not a night for narrative. It is a night of visual, sensory illusions.
The simplest moments provide the greatest magic. At one point, Thierrée brings a grey, paper-thin man to life simply by placing her own arm in his sleeve. 'They' talk, grope and dance together. And then, with one slip of her arm, this almost-nothing man is dead again. It's a strange little scene and and quite frightening too; one lad was crying for his mummy, the night I watched.
But other than a few, scary faceless men, this is a beautifully innocent show. It draws on childish, sweeping strokes of imagination. Nobody, other than the central lady, is quite real. Men walk about with grey, mesh faces. Huge, mechanical creatures, swathed in white bubble wrap, stalk across stage. A man with bellows for a head, sits forlornly with his drink.
The special effects also have a childlike simplicity to them - at least, on the surface. A chocolate-coloured sea, represented by billowing sheets, gobbles up all manner of creatures. Massive, sheet-like screens, on which are printed photos of streets and houses, form the backdrop. These shimmering pictures create a dreamlike space, as they swallow up characters and shimmer, strangely, with every movement.
There's also a bunch of shameless slapstick moments, weaved into this otherwise more ethereal affair. A moment in which a chap repeatedly slaps himself gets the biggest laugh. Yet awed silence finally falls, with the most gentle of scenes. A man and lady – both real this time – dance on a table, trimmed in glowing gold. Around their necks, golden bulbs also glisten. They glide, they whirl, they tease. They even slide right off the table and, for one tantalising moment, our lady with the red shoes stands, firmly, on thin air.