Theatre of objects and mime gestures from a veteran street performer circus duo, complete with mechanical friends and an alternative lion.
Classic fairgrounds performances and simple physical comedy. An intimate circus show from French travelling entertainers Elsa De Witte and Laurent Cabrol. A chamber piece, excuisitely intimate and warm. A show brought from the road and the circus tent onto the Barbican stage.
Bêtes de foire has a rustic aesthetic about it. Everything on stage is well lived-in, and much loved. The mechanisms, the carefully selected items. This is theatre of the real. There's a subtle sentimentality and an honesty reminiscent of Cézanne paintings.
Mechanical performers frequent the small round stage alongside the two leads. There's a tightrope cyclist and some mechanical dancing. A one-man-band serves as a compère of sorts. Toys brought to life. The mechanicals are not exactly puppets, but rather independent characters in their own right. The alternative lion, well-trained, is the real star of the show with her number.
The show is a charming invitation to play, to engage the imagination of the child within us. The pacing and performance is a bit uneven, and sometimes the build-up isn't quite worth the climax of each number. The hit numbers win the audience over. There's much to appreciate, some misses, all presented as is, with a good deal of self-awareness. It's a good mix all in all.
Thematically there's a gentle wardrobe theme running through. De Witte is a costume maker, and her small shop on stage serves as the backdrop behind the compact arena. We see jackets, hats, shoes and costumes incorporated into the show. Cabrol is the one trying garments on for a size.
The framing story is rather loose. There's a bit of gypsy treasure chest atmosphere of tiny spectacles. Everyone is eagerly waiting for the next number to be brought on stage. De Witte and Cabrol are both confident performers, but appeared a bit tired or seasoned at least.
Bêtes is a long-running show. Mine was ceremonially declared the 418th performance. All very genuine, authentic. No posing, simple performances. "Very French" it was voiced from the audience during the Q&A that followed, but perhaps just continental and high quality. Not over-thought. "We are not really performing," De Witte suggested, "this is who we are."
And who they are is street performers with a background in travelling companies. Bêtes is very much an itinerant fairgound show. They've done all of the stage build themselves, from cheap materials, and with a little help from their friends. It's a show developed, crafted in pieces, a "dreamt show".
There is a strong carny spirit in the two performers, the street souls. A wish to keep a distance, and yet engage. There's a melancholy undercurrent, a sombre nostalgia. One cannot help being reminded of Fellini's masterwork La Strada. In their words, their inspirations are eclectic, from Anthony Calder an the mechanicals to Tadeusz Kantor, Chaplin and Amélie Poulain.
See this travelling miniature circus for some charming French street entertainment from capable hands, some paws, and a whole bunch of mechanical joints.