Friday, 18 April 2014
L'Effet de Serge | Vivarium Studio
Written by Jack Teiwes   
Monday, 09 January 2012 14:20

L'Effet de Serge | Vivarium StudioPhoto – Martin Argyroglo and Callias Bey

Every once in a while when you’re reviewing a piece of theatre it can be rather difficult to describe the show without “giving it away”, and there’s nothing worse than spoiling a disarming, unexpected theatrical experience for someone. Sometimes it’s because there’s a twist ending, a significant detour from the show’s advertised content, radical shifts in production design after interval, a surprising special effect, or some other coup de théâtre.

So to describe L’Effet de Serge in much detail would certainly be a case of “spoilers”, but not really for any of the aforementioned reasons. The advertising blurb pretty much says it all, describing a man creating little pockets of magic for friends visiting in his living room, using small special effects to create unexpectedly captivating moments.

It’s not so much a question of letting the cat out of the bag for any surprises, because there aren’t really any you would call very surprising, and it isn’t to safeguard a twist of the plot, because there isn’t any twist.

Or any plot, for that matter.

No, the dilemma is that merely describing the literal content of this show in much detail at all is in itself a kind of spoiler, because on one level so little actually happens that describing what does would rob the show of any modicum of anticipation. But more importantly, because it would give a false impression that the show is drearily mundane and uneventful.

Because while it is technically kind of uneventful, it is anything but mundane. Or if it is mundane, it is a magical, engrossing kind of mundanity that can spring only from the imaginative mind of inspired children and the theatrically adventurous.

An enormous part of the appeal of this show is in its meticulously nuanced tone. It walks a kind of tightrope between boredom and fascination, awkwardness and inspiration. The majority of this stems from the chief performer, Gaëtan Vourc’h as the titular Serge, who is gently eccentric, laconic and seemingly socially inept, yet well-liked by his neighbours and tremendously endearing in his understated quietness. Indeed, there is a kind of inviting simplicity, an almost inscrutable blankness to his character that makes him something of a cipher for the audiences to project onto, vaguely akin to a Buster Keaton or a Monsieur Hulot.

Of course, part of the show is about special effects, or rather, the creative use of simple visual paraphernalia, and without telling you what they are, I will say that it’s more about the way Serge does them, not the tricks themselves. Context, anticipation and dénouement are all of equal or greater importance than the actual effects. In fact, the tricks he does, although mesmerising in their own way, seem like ultimately such a small part of the whole event that (combined with the plethora of other items on the set that he didn’t use at all) my theatre companion and I were wondering if the show actually involves a degree of improvisation in terms of choosing from a wider repertoire of potential gimmicks. If not, it is of little consequence as the result is unchanged; a sense of slow-burn anticipation whereby Vourc’h performs a kind of hypnosis on the audience who are wondering what he might do next, despite the repetition and disarming simplicity of it all.

For some, this show will be too light on flash and dazzle, too meandering in its pace or insufficiently compelling without a distinct narrative. And despite its simplicity and minimal amount of language, it is probably going to be a bit too subtle and quirky for children with a short attention span. But as a study in mood and gentle, idiosyncratic humour, this is an unexpectedly absorbing piece of theatre that will certainly take you to a state of mind that your average two-act drama never will. Recommended for those seeking something a little different, this is one of those offbeat delights of the Festival season.


Sydney Festival 2012
L'Effet de Serge
Vivarium Studio

Conceived, directed and designed by Philippe Quesne

Venue: Everest Theatre | Seymour Centre, Chippendale
Dates: 8 – 11 January 2012
Ticket: $45 – $40
Bookings: www.sydneyfestival.org.au | 1300 668 812



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