The Toad Knew


Edinburgh International Festival

King’s Theatre


24 – 24 Aug



Stamping, cheering, clapping greeted the final curtain of this extraordinary show.


Another extraordinary piece – a dreamscape with recurring motifs, including the enigmatic toad.


Having just come out of the latest Star Trek prequel my mind was predisposed to think of space ships and alien visitors, so they were what came first to mind when the star-spangled red velvet curtain rose to disclose a wonderfully mobile collection of illuminated dishes floating above the stage, rising, falling, separating, clustering, lighting up, changing colour, with the largest central dish opening downward-facing petals to form a giant flower whose central illuminated golden calyx descended – bringing enlightenment?  It also became the cradle or crow’s nest into which an aerialist descended headfirst, only to rise again and twist and coil herself around the dishes’ cabling before descending to earth to continue her gyrations.


There was a wonderful singer in a crimson cloak, a small Baldrick-like character and an enigmatic Man in a Cloak, a long-haired contortionist who could hold her breath underwater for a worryingly long amount of time: and the amazing James Thiérrée, whose brainchild this extraordinary piece is.  Acrobat, poet, clown, magician, musician, film actor; the great-grandson of Eugene O’Neill, grandson of Charlie Chaplin and son of Chaplin’s daughter Victoria and Jean-Baptistery Thiérrée, who created many legendary French circus companies; an amazing pedigree which helps explain his many talents.


Elastic body, expressively mobile face, incredibly flexible hands and an imagination which knows no bounds: who else could imagine a staircase that builds itself as he climbs it and then becomes the whirling support for breath-taking acrobatic skills, or visualise a contest for dominance between man and piano?  Baldrick, with two trays, one large and one small, becomes the centre of a maelstrom of plates which proliferate invisibly and even become the shell of a tortoise which emerges into the mayhem – and, of course, there is the toad….


In Thierry’s own words “I do not make theatre to explain what shakes our inner workings, but rather to roam around.  So, roam if you want to.  Let’s live together, here, for a few moments, and perhaps foolish things can become meaningful, on the horizon at the tips of our noses.


The toad will tell us.”


And it did.


Mary Woodward