Murmurs

3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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‘Murmurs’ takes its audience into the enchanted hinterland of everyday life – creating its alchemy from cardboard boxes and bubble wrap, abandoned umbrellas and light bulbs, skeletal ladders and staircases without steps.

Conceived and directed by Charlie Chaplin’s daughter Victoria Thierrée Chaplin and starring Aurélia Thierrée, his granddaughter, this follow-up to the hugely successful ‘Aurélia’s Oratorio’ similarly seeks to combine a poetic comic sensibility with ravishing stage pictures.

A waif among objets trouvés, at the start Thierrée sits amid a sea of cardboard boxes, while an intermittent rain of dust from the ceiling warns of its imminent collapse. The first visual joke comes when she inhales deeply on a cigarette and blows the smoke out of her ears – the start of an irreverent sequence of visual tricks which extends into a ballet among derelict props that becomes first tender and then sinister as Thierrée animates a vast bubble-wrap monster, which at first seems to embrace her, and then eats her.

‘Murmurs’ is the English translation of what, more eloquently in French, is ‘The murmurs of walls’, and the programme notes talk about ‘the surfaces which hide us, protect us, and sometimes imprison us… What if these walls breathed out our stories? What if they had absorbed our desires, thoughts and disappointments?’

Emotionally the show constantly plays along the thin dividing line between a place that feels hostile and one that feels safe: Thierrée peeps impishly through a top floor window, yet when that part of the set is whisked around, it’s revealed that there’s no floor; at another point she wrestles with a man-size puppet who goes from inappropriate flirtatiousness to groping sexual assault.

Often this show soars – not least when Thierrée pairs up with Jaime Martinez, whose fleet footed movement matches her deft sense of mischief. But it also has leaden-footed moments: some of the clowning just doesn’t work, and these rend unforgiving holes in the gossamer-delicate stage magic.

That Thierrée is a remarkable talent is in little doubt, yet the unevenness of ‘Murmurs’ makes it fall slightly short of being a remarkable show. As a festive entertainment, it’s an appealing alternative to the relentless seasonal cheer, but it’s not quite the sum of its delightfully whimsical parts.

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