Bells and Spells
The Coronet Theatre
Reviewed – 4th December 2019
“An absolute dream of a show”
I have often thought that the Coronet Theatre in London’s Notting Hill is London’s sister to Peter Brook’s Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris. With its distressed grandeur and peeling walls it echoes with the ghosts of a lost age of theatre. The over-used modernism ‘shabby chic’ is too twee a description for the Coronet. It is steeped in antiquity and authenticity, each imperfection bearing the beautiful scars of over a hundred years of history. This makes it the perfect setting for Aurélia Thierrée’s new show, “Bells and Spells”. Directed by Victoria Thierrée Chaplin, it returns to the theatre following its work in progress sharing during the Coronet International Festival in 2017.
“Bells and Spells” is a dreamlike odyssey that whisks you through a world that has a mind of its own. It is recommended that you leave your own mind at the door as you enter, and rely on the skewed logic of dreams. That way you’ll accept the absurdity as completely valid. There is no place for reason as Thierrée vanishes into a revolving door or disappears into an armchair. Heads levitate from their bodies; limbs crawl out of paintings. Thierrée is a whisp of beauty as she dances and weaves herself through the fantasy; as light as Aerial. And light-fingered too. The narrative, if one can be perceived, depicts her as an unabashed, incurable kleptomaniac. She steals silverware, ballgowns, exhibits and paintings, and as she does so she steals herself into our hearts.
There is no place for logic, and it dawns on us that the objects seem to want to be stolen, and Thierrée herself is victim to their surreal intentions. They are in control. Furniture moves across the stage, hat stands walk and move with balletic precision, dresses dance, walls open up revealing dancers. It is in the choreography that her circus and dance background truly comes to the fore. From an early start Thierrée was recruited into her parents’ (Victoria and Jean-Baptiste Thierrée) wandering troupe ‘Le Cirque Imaginaire’. One of her early memories is of playing a walking suitcase, soon graduating to a chest of drawers. These debuts obviously informed her future, eclectic career which has covered dance, cabaret, circus, film and magic. In “Bells and Spells”, with dance partner Jaime Martinez, tango merges with ballet to hypnotic effect, and in its dreamlike way the scenery joins in the dance.
An ensemble cast intermittently appear from the wings, like shadows that creep out of the recesses of a hallucinating mind. A pirouetting man in black wears an upturned chair on his head, or another is engulfed in a swathe of fabric to be disgorged in completely different costume. Thierrée herself disappears into thin air from behind a cascading sheet of washing linen. Seamlessly set, props, costume and cast ebb and flow in unison. The show is bookended by a scene in a waiting room. The patients (are they patients? Who are they waiting for?) are silent, and as they slowly leave one by one it is the chairs themselves who chatter like phantom tell-tales.
We wonder if we are about to wake from the mirage of illusive images when the curtain call signals the end of the journey and we are back in our seats. But the spell refuses to be broken. The flaking walls of the auditorium remind us of the old-fashioned authenticity of what we have just seen. We are in the land of smoke and mirrors and sleight of hand. No technical wizardry, just a marriage of the human mind, imagination, spirit and physicality. This is where the true magic of theatre lies.
An absolute dream of a show.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Richard Haughton
Bells and Spells
The Coronet Theatre until 14th December
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: