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IMPRESSIONS: James Thierrée’s Compagnie du Hanneton in "Room: Sublime Limites" at Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris

IMPRESSIONS: James Thierrée’s Compagnie du Hanneton in "Room: Sublime Limites" at Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris

Published on June 19, 2023
James Thierrée’s "Room"; photo by Richard Haughton

Direction, original music and costumes: James Thierrée

With: Anne-Lise Binard, Ching-Ying Chien, Mathias Durand, Samuel Dutertre, Hélène Escriva, Steeve Eton, Maxime Fléau, Nora Horvath, Sarah Manesse, Alessio Negro & James Thierrée

Lighting: James Thierrée, Lucie Delorme, Samuel Bovet

Sound: Lilian Herrouin, Loïc Lambert

Costumes: Laurette Picheret and Sabine Schlemmer

General Manager: Rodolphe Padel

Assistant for Musical Creation: Mathias Durand

Assistant Director and Coordinator: Felicitas Willems, Philippe Royer

Sets and Props: Olivier Achez, Mathieu Fernandez, Christelle Naddéo, Félix Page, Samuel Dutertre & Anthony Nicolas, Thomas Delot, Joanny Guillaumin

Patina and Paint: Marie Rossetti

Set Management: Samuel Dutertre, Mathieu Fernandez, Christelle Naddéo, Félix Page, Laurette Picheret, Allessio Negro

The enormity of the walls in James Thierrée’s Room creates the sense of endless height, dwarfing the action below. Thierrée weaves circus, dance, music and text together into what he calls an “assumed chaos.” The stage is full of objects: a desk, a sofa, a fireplace, a lamp. Odd treasures are half-hidden in the mess, like in one of those children’s game books where you have to find the rope, the rake, the violin, the mannequin...

James Thierrée’s Room; photo by Richard Haughton

Rumpled and wild-haired, Thierrée steps out of a cupboard door painted on one of the XXL wall panels. As the artistic director of Compagnie du Hanneton dusts himself off, arms and legs waving akimbo develop into a recognisable Charleston. It is true, he has been gathering dust for too long. This piece was conceived before Covid, and gestated during confinement. But this work is not intended to be about confinement or limitations to freedom. Rather, it seems to be a landscape of Thierrée’s mind, an ode to the space where creativity flourishes. As the lyrics of one of the many songs puts it: “Strong winds keep blowing in my hair... Hurricane raging in my brain”

James Thierrée’s Room; photo by Richard Haughton

He whistles and the performers gush in as props and panels shift. This is definitely his room, his lair. He kisses a gowned woman and sets another a-twirl as she recedes along the upstage diagonal in a high-speed chainé sequence. Musicians arrive from all directions to converge in a small group in the back corner.

James Thierrée’s Room; photo by Richard Haughton

There are enthralling moments, like when a woman trips over her voluminous gown which seems to consume her as she whips about, storm-tossed. There are surreal moments, like the mannequin invasion where multiple torso-sized figures loll from one side of the space to the other, reeling like an crazed infestation of Bozo the Clown punching bags. One poignant moment shimmers with the sincerity of an artist who has lost his muse: “Room — I miss you and I love you. Just come back.”

James Thierrée’s Room; photo by Richard Haughton

The walls of Thierrée’s Room constantly morph, more like a character in its own right than a set. The giant panels fold back on themselves, recline like a slide, squeeze in around the performers, or lengthen out across the stage creating a giant impasse. The cast emerges from and submerges back into them like images, ideas, wishes, memories or thoughts. One character hovers up high, jutting out like a strange growth or barnacle.

James Thierrée’s Room; photo by Richard Haughton

This work is heavy on words, songs and discordant music that seems to be competing with itself. One performer keeps asking, “Why?” (Pourquoi in French). The repeated response is, “Because” (Parce-que). This gets pretty silly with, “Pourquoi? Parce-que,” repeated ad nauseam, which starts to sound like chickens bawking cantankerously. When the question in raised again later, this time directed skyward in slow motion as if toward God, the answer is the same, only slowly, with great reverence and import.

James Thierrée’s Room; photo by Richard Haughton

It is hard to know whether Thierrée is sincere and this is truly the madness of his creative mind, or if  he is just slapping things together and trusting he can get away with it. Maybe both. But this is not the best of his works. He seems to be repeating many of the themes that arose in Tabac Rouge, which was equally chaotic, less dissonant, and overall more satisfying. Nevertheless, Thierrée is a consummate entertainer and while we may be overwhelmed or confused, we are never bored. The audience gave Room a warm standing ovation.

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