In Vu – translated as ‘viewed’ or ‘seen’ from the French – we spy on a grown man sitting on a tiny chair, knees squashed into his chest, playing. Ostensibly alone with household items and inhabiting a persona somewhere between adult and boy, he ruefully explores their usefulness. In a series of lightly connected actions and experiments – some mundane (making tea), some scientific (what happens if I…?), and others just plain silly (lots of stuff with marshmallows) – Etienne Manceau entertains us.
A one-man show from Compagnie Sacékripa, this 50 minute mime show is full of delight and laughs. Years of juggling and acrobatics on the streets with fellow performers has clearly honed Manceau’s acute sense of timing and meticulous measurement. He displays an acrobat’s precise judgment of distance (where do I position the spring board so that when I bounce off I land exactly on his shoulders? / where do I put the sugarlump so that when I ping it across the table it will land where I want it to?) and the brilliant bungling of the clown. The tricks are not always perfect but it seems clear that they could be if he wanted them to be. Indeed his deep sighs and wry facial expressions when something doesn’t work out are very much part of the humour.
Initially vaguely curious and then annoyed by the audience, he enters down stage right and leaves his coat on the only empty seat in Traverse 2. Wiping his feet on an imaginery mat (perhaps OCD, perhaps simply well trained) he steps across the line and becomes absorbed, somewhat resignedly, in his private antics – leaving us as mere onlookers.
Gradually, however, there’s a change of emphasis: the odd sly glance outwards or a hint of a gesture draws us into increasingly frustrated situations when, next thing we know, he has subtly beckoned someone onto the stage and has an accomplice, nay a dogsbody. It is charming, although he is not; he somehow cajoles and wheedles help with the merest hint of an expression or tap of a finger. Was the man a part of the show? Probably not, but he certainly added value and was endlessly patient despite being made to look foolish at times. Without a word until the final ‘merci’, Manceau insinuates, cocks an eyebrow, purses his lips and all but grimaces as he communicates his needs, playing on our willingness, yet always holding the power.
Sparsely crafted and spaciously presented by the performer with Sylvain Cousin’s ‘outside eye’, we come to love this character, always shambolic in his gait and posture. It’s not much more than a series of japes and yet has a powerful and lasting effect. Afterwards I found I was hyper aware of my own gestures as I hung my umbrella hook over the door knob. My life felt better – an effect only really good theatre can conjure.
If Vu is representative of the calibre of the Manipulate festival’s programme this year, I recommend you snap up any last available tickets.