1. Dimanche at Sydney Opera House
    Photograph: SOH/Daniel Boud
  2. Dimanche at Sydney Opera House
    Photograph: SOH/Daniel Boud
  3. Dimanche at Sydney Opera House
    Photograph: SOH/Daniel Boud
  • Theatre, Performance art
  • Recommended



5 out of 5 stars

This spellbinding and funny Belgian physical theatre show takes you on a journey into the apocalypse (with puppets!) that must be seen to be believed


Time Out says

A clown show and a climate parable in one, with polar bear puppets, malfunctioning stairlifts and huge howling storms – Belgian avant-garde physical theatre show Dimanche has crash-landed at the Playhouse for the Sydney Opera House’s 50th anniversary festival. Over 75 spellbinding minutes, it delivers its unforgettable offering.

A collaboration between Company Chaliwaté and Focus, Dimanche has toured several cities before this one, and comes to Sydney directly from the Edinburgh Festival. With dark humour, heart-grinding pathos and piquantly sublime cross-artform ingenuity, it presents a dystopic story series in which man and animal struggle to adapt to a fast-changing world. There is the foolish and intrepid camera crew documenting the melting Arctic, even as it growls like an ancient monster and breaks apart at their feet. There is the even more foolish family, which performs a comically absurd acceptance of their new chaotic and sweltering norms. There is the polar bear and the flamingo (lovingly brought to realistic life by several puppeteers) – creatures that are equally stubborn in their will to endure, and yet wholly innocent. 

Real magic happens here. The kind to make you gasp; the kind to make that ‘feeling box’ inside your chest expand outwards with such intensity, it hurts.

And, in a subterranean scene that astonishes, there are the tiny fish that nibble at a man asleep at the bottom of the sea. We witness – impossibly – the man’s luminous form floating in the darkness, his alarm clock gently bobbing up in the water each time it rings. Eventually, the man vanishes, and other strange creatures of the deep dance in the gloom. 

With a deep understanding of the psychology of perception, and with the physicality of graceful, self-mocking clowns, Dimanche is a theatre of transitional forms and enchanting transmogrifications. Neither objects nor people behave as they once did. 

Julie Tenret, Sicaire Durieux and Sandrine Heyraud are behind this mime-driven tragicomic miracle, and they portray its human characters too. The creators’ great alchemical talent is in obsessively crafting fluidity of form – blending cinema, puppetry, magical objects, Brice Cannavo’s beautifully textured and immersive soundscapes, Guillaume Toussaint Fromentin’s masterful lighting, and Zoé Tenret’s gorgeously detailed sets to carry the enormous freight of their tale. Words are only heard in mediated forms – like the newscaster reporting a death on a seemingly levitating old TV, or from a van radio playing Paul Simon’s ’50 Ways to Leave Your Lover’. Without the clunk and frailty of regular dialogue, other more powerful languages come to the fore – and the production is virtuosic and versatile in them all.

Bodies blend into snow-covered hamlets, and then then melt away. In a seamless pivot, a tiny toy car becomes life-size, its once pin-sized headlamps blazing full glare at the audience. In the depths of the sea, tiny squid wriggle – an optical illusion of performers’ pale and nimble hands. 

Somehow, in the strength and sincerity of its vision and the beauty of its creation, Dimanche avoids cliché and didactical cringe, too. I mean, the polar bear on the last fragment of polar ice is so overcooked as a metaphor – and yet when mama bear let out a roar of grief, a flash of real blinding terror went through me. 

Overwhelming dread aside, Dimanche is deeply funny, too. The audience laughs often, and even with delight. The most comic moments are reserved for the aforementioned family of wilful ignorance, who obscenely and hilariously try to make the most of the crisis by serving up for themselves a roasted “climate kill” dinner, even as gale-force winds literally have them clinging horizontally tp staircase banisters and dragging themselves back to their plates. The granny of this family is the one human who is a puppet – or part-puppet, at least – her head and upper torso a wrinkled grinning sculpture that hangs off a human body in a stoop, making the puppeteer herself appear like a demon on her back, or a second watchful head. 

Real magic happens here. The kind to make you gasp; the kind to make that ‘feeling box’ inside your chest expand outwards with such intensity, it hurts. It is only through humour, though, that the sorcerer-clowns of Dimanche transport us to that place where you can’t stay long (you’d have a mental breakdown if you did) but you’ve got to visit sometimes: a hyper-present awareness of climate reality.

It must be seen to be believed. And it must be seen, Sydney! 

In the worst-case future, when a new civilisation has clawed itself out of the receding floods, and the survivors are trying to piece together what the heck happened, I want them to discover Dimanche. I want them to find it and understand it for what it is: a bittersweet laugh and an anguished sob at our own foolishness, before everything changed.

Dimanche plays at the Sydney Opera House until October 21, 2023. Tickets range from $42-$59 and you can snap them up over here.


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