Something is amiss at the mansion. It isn’t just the obsessive compulsive way in which Herbert the servant voraciously cleans the dining hall. Or Henry the head butler who, with a drill sergeant’s ruthlessness, ensures Herbert removes every speck of dust. Or even Vladimir, the burly Russian chef with a penchant for knives.
It all revolves around the lady of the manor, one Madame TouxFlouwe who, not merely very old but also very dead, becomes distinctly animated at dinnertime. Having spent the day locked in a dusty wooden container, she emerges sans head each evening, The head is released from its cage and reunited with the body at which point the Madame’s shrill voice starts piercing the air with words that would make a sailor wince.
Madame TouxFlouwe is a twisted tale of treachery, betrayal, revenge and love from the Handspring award winning company The Space Behind the Couch. The story centres on Herbert the servant who, stuck in a perpetual routine of cleaning, develops an existential angst about the pointlessness of serving – with mechanical precision – one meal a day on a day that appears always to be a Tuesday.
A voice in the wall encourages him to ponder on his purpose in this cyclical Orwellian nightmare, and as the plot delves in to each of the character’s lives, the clouds of mystery slowly clear. I’ll stop right there, for you really should, dear theatre goer, witness for yourself the unfolding psycho-drama of Madame TouxFlouwe.
If the plot motifs sound a tad clichéd, the slick artistry of this creative production adds a pure shot of excitement to the mix. Carousels, a dinosaur and Madame TouxFlouwe herself are brought to life in an impressive display of light and shadow, animation and puppetry. The Madame herself is a puppet, though one quickly forgets this, such are her lifelike gestures, speech and presence fashioned by the talented crew. Add a dash of blood for the macabre and the audience is left with a brilliantly crafted production with a heightened sense of realism.
I love a bit of horror and, although the play wasn’t as frightening as I imagined it would be, I was certainly not disappointed. An intriguing story, well-defined characters, impeccable acting and an open-ended conclusion left me mentally probing the play for days afterwards. This is a definite must-see and one of my favourite plays in a very long time.
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Madame TouxFlouwe runs at the Artscape 5 to 14 January 2012.