The best stage magicians are those who make you gasp with amazement at their ability to force you
to suspend your disbelief: you know the rabbit can’t really be in the hat but they make you
The best stage magicians are those who make you gasp with amazement at their ability to force
you to suspend your disbelief: you know the rabbit can’t really be in the hat but they make you
wonder. Circus artist James Thierree triumphs in Raoul¸ his spectacular one man show in the
Barbican Theatre, by constantly moving the point at which his audience sinks into the illusions
At the outset of 75 minutes without interval, the stage is swathed in billowing drapes which
surround a wigwam, fashioned from scaffolding poles and containing Raoul’s eccentric home.
Through clever but conventional use of trapdoors, Thierree appears to be both inside the wigwam
and outside trying to get in. So far so good.
After a pyrrhic victory over a recalcitrant gramophone, Raoul seems to have settled the question
of whether he is inside or outside his wigwam only for it to come alive and vent some of its
poles. Presently a giant fish springs from the drapes and chases Raoul around the stage. Once
he’s fought off the fish, Raoul vanishes into a giant mirror that he is apparently still holding
on the other side. No matter how carefully you scrutinize these apparitions, you cannot catch
even the briefest glimpse of a trailing foot that would explain them.
Just as you begin to decide that Thierree really must have unnatural powers, he clicks his
fingers, the lights change and two black clad stagehands, complete with Bluetooth headsets,
stroll on to make some adjustments to what remains of the wigwam. Raoul makes some half hearted
attempts to hide them with a cloth before giving up and letting them get on with their work.
Later on a jellyfish and an elephant, both seemingly made of nothing more than cloth, put in an
appearance and the entire stage transforms into a vast ship caught in a storm.
You will have to decide for yourself what you think Raoul is about but it’s worth seeing just
for the curtain call when you finally find out what’s inside that fish.
Raoul runs until 24 October.