Aurelia’s Oratorio @ Lyric Hammersmith, London

cast list
Aurelia Thierree
Jamie Martinez

directed by
Victoria Thierree Chaplin
Aurelia’s Oratorio is not an easy show to categorise. A series of stage illusions performed by Aurlia Thierre, it combines elements of circus and dance with a dash of old-fashioned variety. Hers is a world where the furniture has a mind of its own, cloths are not to be trusted and as for what the curtains get up to…

Oratorio was a hit at the Lyric when it played there last summer and artistic director David Farr was keen to bring the show back for a second run. It’s easy to see why. Farr’s recently announced autumn/winter season is once again full of the physical and the innovative, theatre imbued with a sense of magic, and Aurlia’s return – embodying all of these qualities – makes a fitting full stop to the theatre’s current season.

Influenced by the upside down worlds of medieval drawings and the stage trickery of the Victorian music hall, Oratorio gives us people residing inside chests of draws, malevolent puppets, and brings a whole meaning to the idea of the ‘hourglass figure.’ It’s incredibly inventive; these strange and magical creations capable of appealing to both adults and children alike, and the whole thing is riddled with a real sense of humour that other overblown modern circus shows could learn from.

Aurelia has been performing as an actress and illusionist for much of her life and performance clearly runs in her blood. Thierre is the granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin and her mother, Victoria Thierre Chaplin, also a renowned circus performer, conceived and directed Oratorio. She is joined on stage by dancer James Martinez who performs a turbulent duet with a rebellious coat. But he’s even better when acting as a foil to Aurelia and a scene where they share the same pair of trousers even manages to subtly evoke Thierree’s silent movie lineage.

The show is inevitably an episodic affair and at under an hour and a half it still feels overstretched. Some of the scenes are over all too quickly and feel like they could have been taken far further, in particular a clever spin on Punch and Judy with Thierree performing for a bunch of creepy puppet children. Productions like Kneehigh’s Nights At The Circus have used many of these techniques in tandem with narrative, and structurally speaking Oratorio seems limited in comparison.

Yet, in the show’s strongest moments, nothing quite matches Aurelia’s antics. At one point a curtain of white lace falls across the stage and she is menaced by a succession of cute and inventive puppets. It’s a scene that, like many in this production, springs from high comedy to odd and unexpected beauty.

Oratorio’s key virtue is its uniqueness. There really isn’t anything quite like this around at the moment and for that reason alone it’s worth seeing. The production, like everything else the Lyric has staged this season, understands how to evoke a sense of wonder and joy in its audience. A quirky, magical gem of a show.

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