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Review: The Toad Knew, The Lowry

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Photo Richard Haughton

The Toad Knew by James Thierrée’s Compagnie du Hanneton

The Lowry, Salford [10.05.17]

A woman draped in a red cape crosses the stage singing. We hear the strike of a match and see an amber glow in her hood. She melts into the stage curtain of matching velvety fabric and then it is peeled away to reveal the residency of the moment that is about to unfold.

The Toad Knew could be a story. It could be a play. It could be a dance. But it is most certainly a moment. A moment in a space that resembles a room that one could only imagine finding down the rabbit hole. Except this is no rabbit hole. Despite having a bizarre essence of Alice in Wonderland about it, The Toad Knew has a peculiarity all of its own that comes in part from its onlookers. Everything from the rotating staircase to the pond in the tank to the flacks of dusty carpet derive part of their meaning from you. As the experiencer, you paint part of the meaning into this spectacle and that’s part of what makes it so unique and beautiful.

Tonight, I watched a piece of theatre swallow itself over and over again. What started as a levitating space age swamp filled with galactic kites soon grows into a home of sorts. Its inhabitants whilst on the surface appear rather unusual, on closer examination are a physical manifestation of feelings we have lived and a multitude of versions of ourselves and those around us. We observe the relationships between these unnamed characters and through their physicality and personal quirks, they are able to speak volumes that surpass that surpass the limits of the English language. There is nothing concrete here. All interactions are fluid and a relationship that could be perceived as father-daughter, brother-sister, lovers can exist as all of these things and none of them simultaneously.

Nothing in the world that we have been invited into is fixed. Water still trickles, sawdust still falls, girls still float in water temporarily and lights still shine bright. Among compulsive gyrations, a piano that plays itself whenever there is an ‘elephant in the room’ sensation and an array of prosthetic limbs and wigs, we are sent on a journey filled with revelation that is quiet by nature. This is not the place for Eurekas and soul searching. It is the place for being in the moment and knowing that it’s okay to relive your memories and decipher your dreams in a room filled with other people. It’s also okay to not know what is happening because you feel that there’s a universal correct way to look at this moment that we’re all participating in. What you can know for sure is that whatever you feel about it is not wrong.

The Toad Knew is a reaction, a unity and a change that prompts us to reflect on our commitments in this moment and externally. Repetition and precision in intriguing movements encourage us to engage in a habitual pursuit of a story that doesn’t have a beginning, a middle or an end. Instead, we are left trinkets of may have been and what could be: sleep disturbance, being held back and wanting to do the right thing. And we’ve all had the feeling of not wanting to let someone go that is truthfully conveyed to the sound of These Arms Of Mine.

Three pairs of arms carried silverware and one body danced under foiled shackles that dazzled and humoured the light. It is hard not to write about this moment in a poetic manner given that it defied the parameters of prose and made its physicality audible. As soon as stacks of silverware were balanced, they soon littered the floor. In the onstage frenzy to pick them up and toss them aimlessly into the tank/pond, we are reminded that there is an unspoken urgency to ‘get your shit together’ – no matter the space or time. But this doesn’t mean you need to do it right now and you certainly don’t need to brush your desires under the carpet in order to do so.

To end this moment, the toad appears in all its white, evocative glory and devours each of our characters whole. One by one. Time still turns and ticks and flows. But, our moment is soon to pass. The Toad tells us of the thoughts that she cannot keep track of, for there are so many. Each of these moments that lived in and devoured each other are not easily described in words. They are not concrete. But these characters, their acts, their journeys, their habits – they are all thoughts. Thoughts that we’ve all had in different manners and different contexts.

Verdict: The Toad Knew is an exquisite and unique moment trapped in a kaleidoscope and admired under the gaze of an honest and personal magnifying glass. Somewhat disturbed but hilariously peculiar, this is a compelling and captivating piece of theatre that reminds us that it’s not about the conclusion, but the journey that you take to get there and the meaning that you derive along the way. A stunningly original moment that we would all benefit from experiencing.

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