Julien Cottereau: Imagine Toi, Purcell Room | Theatre reviews, news & interviews
Julien Cottereau: Imagine Toi, Purcell Room
Gallic mime to be enjoyed in former Cirque du Soleil clown's hour-plus show
There’s something off stage, something loud and threatening, pulsating in dark red, at the beginning of Julien Cottereau’s solo mime piece Imagine Toi. This is a show of fears and sweetnesses, and there’s no holding back on the former as we progress between rumbling giants and large dogs. The show is billed as suitable for ages four and up, and what a youngster might feel with real apprehension, adults enjoy as a stage show (though I’m not sure how well teenage attentions would be held).
Cottereau was for years a lead clown at Cirque du Soleil, before bringing this solo mime act together (co-authored with Erwan Daouphars) in 2006. Since then he’s toured it all over the world (including some grand Parisian venues, pictured below right), which might make it sound stale, but given that considerable effect in the hour-plus show comes from his interaction with audience members, there must always be an element of the unpredictable.
With his tousled waistcoat, ill-hanging trousers and floppy box hat he could be a French hobbit
Cottereau enters as if he hasn’t noticed the audience, starting out of his daily routine of street and window cleaning: with his tousled waistcoat, ill-hanging trousers and floppy box hat he could be a French hobbit, a Gallic Bilbo Baggins whose elastic face runs effortlessly through a whole range of expressions, from innocent surprise (as if he’s shrugging his shoulders with a not-too-emphatic “bouff!”) to a Rowan Atkinson-like enjoyment of just how funny you can look when you screw it up (the face, that is).
He’s also a grand master of sound, tapping drum-tight notes out of his throat, as well as whistles, bubble-gum stickiness and the wildness of the wind, and almost every animal tone imaginable. Where there’s music, it’s often of the Sergio Leone der-der-dum Wild West comic style, where the mime plays off our expectations.
First invited up on stage is a young boy, age around seven, who gets into the bop-bop routine dribbling, throwing and kicking football with an élan that made me wonder briefly whether he was an audience plant. He’s followed by a lady, and longest of all a gentle giant of a man, for whom especially you felt mime wasn’t new. You may wonder how Cottereau copes on a night with an audience which doesn’t feel so inclined to join him on stage, but one suspects the fun is just infectious.
How easily you could picture Cottereau swanning his way through a black and white silent film. One favourite here might be titled the "very many ways to kill a chicken" sketch. Cottereau coaxes his invited-up collaborator to gird himself with a gun, all the time squawking the noises of the bird (rapidly becoming birds, very much plural) at their feet. He takes over after the first bang-bangs have brought only more cackling, ratcheting concentration up through bazooka to a final enormous bomb. At its best this show is a small explosion of the imagination in itself.
Watch clips from Imagine Toi at the Edinburgh Festival 2010
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
'The mother of the blues' leads theartsdesk's stage tips
Peter Brook revisits 'The Mahabharata' with a perfection that ultimately feels chilly
Shakespeare's tale is told quietly here but with tremendous charm and impact
David Lindsay-Abaire's examination of grief is smart and sincere, but too studied
False notes mar Ibsen's unsettling mix of the real and the supernatural
August Wilson's Broadway debut dazzles anew
Adrian Lester is a blazing triumph as pioneering 19th-century actor Ira Aldridge
Tedious bio-play about Marty Feldman
A company member reveals what happened when the Globe's world tour of Hamlet performed for refugees from Central African Republic
New Caryl Churchill play creates a fantasy world where banality is infected by horror
Florian Zeller's desolate farce tackles maternal devotion and mental instability
Verse play about Afghanistan campaign soldiers is both harrowing and a touch too polished