In Italo Calvino's novella The Baron in the Trees a young man takes to the branches. He leaves his human home – a castle, no less – and starts a new life in the leaves. A decade ago, Mathurin Bolze and Companie MPTA turned the story into a circus piece. Barons Perchés picks up the tale.
If Calvino's baron opted out of society to live life apart, Bolze joins him years later, when hermitage has become habit. He's built himself a treehouse, a studio flat in the sky. Creepers weave their way round its metal supports. Ivy climbs up the walls. Filled with space-saving contraptions – tables that fold out, pulley systems that tuck away – it caters for his every need. Shutters shut the rest of the world out.
The flat's floor is a trampoline and two men – Bolze and Karim Messaoudi – bounce around it. They're the spit of one another; the same black curls, the same black moustaches. Are they the same man? They chase one another around, sometimes ducking out of sight, sometimes mirroring each other. It's like watching a rebellious reflection or an insubordinate shadow. Or else, it's as if two evenings have overlapped: the same man treading the same path through his flat night after night; a creature of habit, stuck in a rut. They bounce off one another.
And they do so seamlessly. Every leap lands on target. They spring up into the ceiling or boing into chairs. Each bounce is perfectly weighted, precision-honed with practice. It's as if this man is at one with his flat. Was it built for him or was he built for it? Either way, they're in symbiosis: a man and his home, made for one another.
This is what it feels like to live alone for long stretches. There's a weightlessness to it – sometimes good, sometimes not. It can be freeing. Without anyone to see you, you can be truly yourself; giddy and playful and completely unselfconscious. At the same time, with no-one to anchor you, you can drift, float off into daydreams, let time slip away. Bolze pins down the paradox of self-consciousness: there's no one to see you but you.
At a certain point, the cricket chirrups and birdsong give way to car horns and chatter – the sounds of a city. This, you realise, is no leafy paradise; no twee fable or fantasy. It's how many of us live today: in tiny, high-rise flats with fold-away furniture. The baron's bouncing off the walls. He's rattling around in his flat. It clatters and chimes; each bounce smashing cymbals and rattling cowbells. That's the sound of silence; thoughts echoing around an empty brain, louder and louder and louder.
In the end, though, Barons Perchés exhausts itself. A trampoline only offers so much and bouncing, no matter how skilful, grows repetitive. In fact, that skill is an issue. Bolze and Messaoudi are so in control, so smooth in flight and so precise in landing, that the piece settles into safety; a routine in more ways than one.
Barons Perchés runs at the Platform Theatre until 14 January. London International Mime Festival runs until 4 February.