Julien Cottereau – Imagine Toi – London

Julien Cottereau.<br />© Julien Cottereau. (Click image for larger version)
Julien Cottereau.
© Julien Cottereau. (Click image for larger version)

Julien Cottereau
Imagine Toi

London, Purcell Room
13 December 2012

I don’t often take up opportunities to review clowns, circus or physical theatre – all far removed from dance movement which is my first love. But I do like the Southbank Centre’s intimate and no-nonsense Purcell Room (tucked behind the Queen Elizabeth Hall) and a one-man show from a former Cirque du Soleil clown intrigued for being targeted at the entire family at a time when everybody does Nutcrackers and I’m feeling crackered out. You might well be too, so read on…

It’s a relaxed deal as shows go with families arriving late, little people being carted out mid-performance for toilet breaks etc and Cottereau sails on, sometimes acknowledging them and often not – there are no ‘pointed’ put-downs. But this is a show full of audience interaction even if you have no idea of that at the start. Julien Cottereau arrives as a down-at-heel vagabond, dressed in ill-fitting clothes and seemingly employed to sweep the floor. He talks to himself in clicks, squeaks and exclamations as he goes about his simple business, before noticing us watching and then we all become aware of some growling, snarling beast just off stage. Other than lights there are no props and it’s Cottereau making all the beast noises. The beast calms down (though they makes regular reappearances) and he comes out into the audience eventually getting a small boy to play games with an imaginary football – they both try and outdo one another with keeping the ball in the air. The boy is quick on the uptake, but it’s wonderfully innocent and all done with nothing but imagination and odd noises.

Grown ups also end up on stage (thankfully not me!) and it’s fun too, even if it takes longer for them to go with the gentle, if bonkers, flow of what he is miming them to do. The brilliance though is that his projected noises perfectly capture their initial confusion and the odd ways they go off-script in rising to the strange challenges: of being his girlfriend in a glamorous photoshoot or, in another, trying to put down an injured animal with a 12 bore shotgun.

At 90 minutes it’s about the right length for the audience and well worth the £15 admission. While it’s nice seeing grown-ups charmingly enter a madcap world, it’s even more fun seeing his interactions with children – more of those please. But it is a gentle show for all the family and takes you all back to primary school and playing make-believe. Life might be a fast-moving snarky bitch at times, but not on this stage.

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