Circo Circolo festival, Netherlands; 23rd October 2014
Catalan clown Leandre‘s solo show Rien À Dire is a fabulous invitation into a world of wonder and imagination. The title translates as ‘Nothing To Say’, which travels beyond Leandre Ribera’s silently comic character and into the underlying ethos of the production; this is not a show that tries to impart a message, but one that opens up and shares a state of play with the audience in the most marvellous way.
Inside the big top of the Circo Circolo festival, a theatre space has been created with rows of raked seats facing a large stage, strewn with yellow socks, and suggesting an open, nautical sort of home. From out of a wardrobe appears our guide, buffeted by a gale, a mischievous spirit wind that inhabits the wardrobe and causes furniture to move without volition.
In his baggy woollen suit, round knitted hat and rustic striped vest, the man before us could be a fisherman, a lighthouse keeper, an explorer… the imaginative possibilities are broad, and our creative faculties are kindled.
A chain of lightbulbs that respond to Leandre’s attempts to illuminate his home bring him naturally amongst our seats. Obliviously disruptive of normal theatrical order, he enlists our assistance in a way that is both natural and fantastic, moving ladders amongst the audience and clambering to reach the overhead bulbs. It’s very clear that he trusts us, and he has established that we are friends, rather than impartial observers.
Leandre is highly attuned to the audience and his environment, reacting and interacting to the realities of our world as much as the fictions of his own. It’s impressive to see the skills of a street performer bought into a theatrical environment as strongly as this. You will certainly never get the same show twice.
Our involvement is everything. At the sound of a doorbell, a postman is designated from the front row, and the doorbell becomes a signal for entry to the stage. There is time and space for members of the audience to become a part of Leandre’s fantasy world, to choose their own games, to play with the host and with the rest of us watching.
This is extremely generous and brave – and hilarious – performance. Leandre doesn’t hide the moments of fear at his uncertainty over what will happen next, and his genuine presence is endearing; we all know and respond to that feeling. He has succeeded in generating a safe and supportive environment, so the insecurities are allowed to be funny.
Assisted by surprising props and clever stage trickery, Rien À Dire is a joyous celebration of playful imagination. When the stage becomes overrun by children engaged in an exuberant sock fight, and Leandre calmly takes a seat in the stands to watch, secure in what he has created and the relationship he has built with us all, I am overwhelmed by the thought that this is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in theatre.
With all the space for improvisation and chance within the show, it is still bought to a satisfying and well-plotted end, perhaps signalled by the ticking of a clock that begins to play as time moves on. Have we been incarnations of the spirit wind all this time? Are we the ghosts of this man’s imagination? Or he of ours…
Rien À Dire is a show where presence is bought to the fore, and the audience are all important. It’s almost possible to overlook what a remarkable job Leandre has done in constructing a form that allows for – and nurtures – so much freedom from its public, whilst maintaining its crafted humour and a cohesive theatrical shape. I am blown away.