Reviews West End & Central Published 5 August 2011

Le Cirque Invisible

Queen Elizabeth Hall | Southbank ⋄ 2nd - 21st August 2011

Circus, magic, and puppetry with a dash of steam punk.

Tracey Sinclair

World of wonders. Photo: Brigitte Enguerand

Bringing their unique and innovative interpretation of Cirque Nouveau back to the Southbank Centre as part of its Festival of Britain 60th anniversary celebrations, Victoria Chaplin and Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée’s Le Cirque Invisible is a thing of genuine delight.

Having worked together for 40 years, it is little wonder that Chaplin and Thi̩rr̩e interact seamlessly in this meticulously and cleverly staged show Рwhat is more incredible is that after all those decades they retain the energy and infectious joy of youth. Meshing the traditions of European Circus, magic, street performance and puppetry Рwith a little bit of steampunk thrown in for good measure Рthis is a simply dazzling show. Technically impressive but still managing to look pleasingly unpolished, it elicits both laughs and gasps from an audience of enthralled children and impressed adults alike.

Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée is the mischievous imp of the production: the self-deprecating street tinker peddling his wares with a self-conscious sadness at how meagre they are. He offers us surprised delight at the tricks that work, good-humoured resignation at the ones that do not – after all, in life one cannot expect things to go smoothly – pulling the audience into his success of failure. His scattershot magic act combines humorous reversals, puns and trompe l’oeil, always underlined with a cheeky, sly delight that hints he knows far more than he is showing.

Such cheery and well-meaning ridiculousness is perfectly complemented by the silent, almost ghostly presence of Victoria Chaplin. The daughter of Oona and Charlie, she combines her mother’s slightly hollow cheeked, haunted beauty with her father’s impeccable sense of the physical. Chaplin uses her body like a virtuoso’s instrument, contorting herself, and her surroundings, into animals of the sea or desert, mythical monsters or mechanical creatures, in a series of breathtaking transformations. What makes these really sing is not her amazing physicality or the technical genius of the prop design – impressive though they undoubtedly are – but the otherworldly pathos she brings to each metamorphosis. Like all true clowns, she is sad: resigned to the fact that becoming each new incarnation so completely does not come without cost, and while the children in the audience may simply be thrilled at these seemingly impossible changes, the adults cannot help me moved by the emotional heart of her performance. Nor does she only rely on complicated tricks – a scene where she ‘swims’ along a tightrope line is elegant in its simplicity, but drew some of the strongest applause of the evening. Watching her perform is almost watching ballet – bringing that same sense of bodies pushed to their limits for the sake of beauty and art, and in Chaplin’s wonderfully expressive face you see she is aware that she is courting her own destruction.

Which is not to say the show is not wonderfully light-hearted, and uplifting – all the more so for these touches of the macabre. I admit I’m not a great fan of non-verbal, non-narrative performance (and, at times, the action can feel repetitive and the show a tad overlong) but even I was charmed. I’m also deeply ambivalent about the use of live animals in entertainment, but the programme goes to great lengths to assure us of their welfare and, it has to be said, the hordes of geese, doves and rabbits the show utilises were undeniably crowd pleasing touch – one giant white bunny, in particular, given the run of the stage, added a further touch of nerve-wracking unpredictability to the proceedings as he nonchalantly hopped around, entirely unfazed by the chaos that surrounded him, getting repeatedly close to the stalls. (Parents, be warned: as the audience spilled out after the show, the aisles were ringing with cries of, “Mummy, can we get a rabbit?”) But the dangers of succumbing to pet ownership aside, this vibrant and enchanting show could be the perfect antidote to summer holiday ennui.


Tracey Sinclair

Tracey Sinclair is a freelance editor and writer, a published author and performed playwright. She writes for a number of print and online magazines and most recently has focused on the Dark Dates series of books, including A Vampire in Edinburgh. You can follow her on Twitter under the profoundly misleading name @thriftygal

Le Cirque Invisible Show Info


Running Time 2 hrs and 15 mins (including one interval)



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