Review :: Sydney Festival :: L’Effet de Serge

January 11th 2012

Serge, or rather the performer Gaëtan Vourc’h, makes an extraterrestrial-esque entrance, his light-radiating helmet the first in a series of lo-fi theatrical tricks that punctuate the show ‘L’Effet de Serge’. The last production he was in, he tells us in echoic amplified voice, ended with him as an astronaut, so isn’t it a logical place to begin this one?

He guides us on a tour of the set, describing its features and what Serge can do therein, for example, he can talk to the audience without moving his lips, thanks to the magic of voiceover. The opening exemplifies the self-reflexive nature of the piece. It has been described as theatre about theatre, or as this reviewer suggests, L’Effet “communicates the essence of theatre”. But because much of contemporary theatre tends to overtly reference its processes and forms, I am left wondering if this show might be or ought to be about something more.

Set in the sparse living room of Serge, every Sunday various “friends” visit to witness his short performances, ‘the effect of pyrotechnics on the music of Vic Chesnutt’, as one of the more exciting, but still understated examples. We get glimpses of the time between visits, a man whose impulse to create seems to be the sustenance of his solitary life. Unanimously declared ‘whimsical’ (L’Effet de Serge has been performed on 150 occasions in 22 countries, so there is ample opportunity to read other reviews), my impression of the show might be shaped by a perceived overload of whimsy in art at the moment, and by recently reading Helen Razer’s tirade against this very thing in The Age. Razer sets her sites on Miranda July, and while I didn’t think that her film ‘You Me and Everyone We Know’ was complete tripe, I do think the project ‘Learning to Love you More’  that July recently collaborated in was a broad and vague touchy-feely mass of not much. I can’t help but compare this to the Sydney Festival program’s assertion that L’Effet de Serge “will make you love the world a little more”.

L’Effet was neither of the real world, nor set in the world. Which is perhaps part of its charm. The between space of not-theatre, not-reality was skilfully maintained by Gaëtan Vourc’h and a string of locally recruited performers. Their deliberate movements and virtually nonsensical chitchat made the experience akin to watching Sims on autopilot. The slapstick was impeccable, it wasn’t too long and I left feeling good but not full, to borrow from Razer, like I’d just eaten a cupcake. Granted, with doom and gloom abounds, sometimes a cupcake is what you want.

What: Theatre, L'Effet de Serge
Who: Concept, direction and design by Phillipe Quesne, with Gaëtan Vourc’h. Presented by Vivarium Studio and Sydney Festival 2012
Where: The Seymour Centre
When: January 8-11, 2012


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