Raoul opens with giant sails parting to reveal a desolate land uninhabited except for a small hut. The Barbican stage isn’t big, but the sweep and swish somehow give the impression of wide open spaces, and create the sense of a shipwreck buffeted by land and sea, with a lone survivor huddled on the shore.
The man is James Thiérrée, and we quickly sense that he's not alone, although it’s not clear if his visitor is a real person or a figment of his imagination. The little hut is his haven, with a few creature comforts – an old chair, a wind-up gramophone – only they increasingly assume a life of their own. At times Thiérrée appears to be fighting both his home and his visitors, only for them to vanish and leave him fighting himself.
The well-connected Thiérrée (he’s the grandson of Charlie Chaplin) mixes solo circus, dance, and silent drama to beguiling effect. He is a dexterous performer, morphing his supple body into ingenious shapes, then clambering over his little home that progressively falls apart. He’s on stage for all the solo show, helped only by anonymous stage hands, and you sense he occasionally struggles to sustain the hour-long piece which sometimes lacks dramatic coherence.
However, Raoul is still an intriguing piece of solo theatre. Thiérrée has a dark flair that casts him as both reluctant loner and his own lost soul. He seamlessly integrates his circus acrobatics into the narrative, and combines the rag-taggity set with the story. At the close, he soars to weightless freedom among the starts, and you can at last stop worrying about this wistful man.