The couple pioneered nouveau cirque in France 40 years ago, moving away from traditional animal- and stunt-based circus routines to a more design-led visual show which appeals directly to the audiences imagination. As well as using some old-style circus skills, they mix in magic, mime, puppetry, cabaret and comedy in a genre-bending performance that appeals to all ages.
They may have produced only three shows, but though Le Cirque Invisible has been touring since 1990 it is a constantly evolving phenomenon.
Deceptively simple, its skilful pursuit of theatrical illusion blurs the distinction between appearance and reality, continually building up our expectations only to subvert them. But even when we can see how the effects are produced, we are still beguiled by their charm. Usually performing separately, Thierre and Chaplins contrasting styles complement each other perfectly.
The woolly, white-haired and ruddy, round-faced Thierre resembles a clown-like Ken Russell, wearing an impishly childlike grin and a variety of outlandish costumes and masks. His conjuring tricks producing flowers and balls from unexpected places, and making white rabbits and doves disappear, are well executed, but it is the frequent use of surreal humour that impresses. As well as plenty of visual comedy, such as a dummy seemingly carrying Thierre on his back or a skeleton pedalling behind on his tandem, there are also aural jokes, with body parts making musical sounds and big objects falling silently.
The gamine Chaplin (daughter of Charlie) is a more ethereal presence, performing a series of transformations in which her lithe body merges into animals or machines, but also showing tremendous balance and dexterity in more acrobatic routines. The scenes where she uses parasols to create a fantastical creature or waltzes with bicycle wheels have a poetic beauty, while her unicycle riding and tightrope walking are done with considerable grace.
The contemporary circus Thierre and Chaplin helped to invent may have moved on to more sophisticated expressions (as in Cirque du Soleils slickly high-tech, arena narratives, or their own children James and Aurlias highly choreographed theatrics), but they still possess a timeless ability to delight and amuse. With them you are guaranteed that there will always be much more going on than meets the eye.