Holiday Performances

It’s that time of year where, in Australia at least, everything steps down a gear or two (or even three). Given that here the Christmas holidays coincide with the long school break, the usual Christmas / New Year wind-down segues into languid summer days, meaning that office life doesn’t seem to get back to usual pace until after Australia Day (January 26th). Indeed, many places (especially factories) shut down completely for at least two weeks at this time of year.

Anyway, this means that a fair proportion of Australians are on holidays right now. And we’re all having a great time, right??

But sometimes our holidays are not what they’re cracked up to be. Via Twitter I came across London’s most miserable visitors, ostensibly a humourous poke at some ill-informed TripAdvisor reviews of London attractions. Quotes include: “Just a collection of pictures!” (National Portrait Gallery) and “The museum’s collection seems to have little to do with Victoria and Albert” (the V&A).

On one level, it’s easy to file these comments under “Well what did you expect?” and mutter something about (with apologies to my US readers) “dumb Americans”. But I want to take this to another level – assuming they are international tourists, why did these people spend the time and money travelling to London in the first place? What were they hoping to find, and where did these expectations come from?

Are these places idealised in the popular imagination to the extent that the reality cannot meet expectations (a variation of Paris syndrome)? Or has a theme park culture created expectations of visitor facilities and comfort that real-life heritage places cannot fulfil? Is there in fact a kernel of truth to some of these comments?

Perhaps it’s a bit of each. I’m also inclined to wonder whether some people travel to London (or Paris, or wherever) not because they want to, but because it’s what you’re supposed to do if you can afford it. It’s how you demonstrate that you’re cultured, worldly, sophisticated. It’s tourism as a Goffman-esque* performative act. And if you’re someone who would actually prefer the familiar comforts of home, it’s not surprising if you have a crappy time.

I’m sure this is something that’s been looked at in far more detail in the tourism literature, but this is a holiday blog post so I’m not going to go there this time. I’m more throwing it out there as some pre-Christmas food for thought. How much of your holiday will be what you really want to do, and how much will be performance of social expectations? Is there even a clear line between the two?

Merry Christmas and Happy 2015 everyone!

*Goffman, 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Although a product of its era in places, it’s still a read I’d recommend.

Exit through the gift shop

These days it’s more or less a given that a museum will have a gift shop of some description. There’s a body of literature around museum retail (here is a good example). Museum shops vary greatly in quality and tone. Some clearly put a lot of effort into their retail offer, and the larger museums tend to have excellent shops that are great for souvenir shopping (you can even shop online). Others appear to be doing it as a tick-the-boxes exercise or as an afterthought.

Generally speaking, debates about the museum shop revolve around:

  • Location: should visitor flow be routed through the gift shop such that avoiding it is difficult, if not impossible?
  • Integration: research suggests that visitors see the shop as part of the museum experience as a whole, not as a separate entity. Should this be embraced to make retail a more holistic part of the visitor experience, and if so, how?
  • Merchandise: how closely should items stock represent the museum’s “brand” in terms of quality, content and provenance? It’s easy to stock piles of generic souvenir fodder, and it probably moves quickly. But does it enhance or detract from the rest of the museum experience?

However, the very idea that a museum should have a shop is seldom brought into question. That is, until a few days ago, when the 9/11 Museum opened (complete with shop) at Ground Zero in New York. The New York Post called it “absurd“, and families are reportedly infuriated by the “crass commercialism” such a shop embodies. Of course, the shop is not the only controversy surrounding the museum, and it’s not surprising that Ground Zero is such a contested site. But that’s a bigger subject; one for another day and another post.

I’m interested in exploring reactions to the shop in particular. The juxtaposition of a site of great and recent tragedy with a place you can pick up commemorative trinkets does trigger a bit of a visceral “yuck” factor. But then again, other sites with gift/souvenir shops include the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Arlington National Cemetery, and the Holocaust Museum in DC (just to cite a few US examples). The main difference seems to be the recency of events being commemorated at Ground Zero (and as I’ve argued before, recent events can be ‘too hot to handle‘).

The museum itself argues that merchandise has been “carefully selected”, and that proceeds help support this non-profit organisation (and presumably there’s market demand for these souvenirs and keepsakes). Others have said that this just underscores how commercialism has permeated every aspect of American society.

I’m still working through what I think of this, and trying not to reach judgement one way or another too quickly. As a foreigner, I’m aware that it’s not really for me to judge what is or isn’t an appropriate way for Americans to remember and commemorate their own heritage. I’d be interested to hear what others think.

UPDATE: This piece elegantly and powerfully describes the difficult, sometimes darkly comical experience of having a private tragedy turned into public memorial, complete with souvenirs. There are so many bits I could pull out and quote. Better yet just read it.

Acknowledgement: In case it’s not obvious, the title of this post is a reference to the 2010 Banksy movie of the same name.

Are museums “lean forward” or “lean back” experiences?

“Lean forward” and “lean back” are terms that emerged in digital media to describe different engagement styles with screen-based experiences.

Lean back behaviour is envisaged as a passive, kick-back-with-a-beer-in-front-of-the-TV type of behaviour, whereas lean forward implies more hands-on engagement such as with gaming or surfing the web. Therefore, it has often been assumed that lean forward experiences require a higher level of engagement than lean back ones. But as this post argues, that doesn’t necessarily follow. Indeed, lean forward experiences are often hyperactive: full of distractions, shortcuts and multitasking. In contrast, lean back experiences can be conducive to engagement with more long-form media such as a book or a movie. Our level of intellectual absorption doesn’t always correspond with our level of activity.

I’m wondering what this means for museums, which under different circumstances may offer both lean forward and lean back experiences. Do certain types of visitors expect one type, and then disappointed if they find the other? Is this part of the reason why James Durston complains about Why He Hates Museums, meanwhile Judith Dobrzynski laments when High Culture Goes Hands On? (To bring in of the most talked-about museum articles in the mainstream press this past month or so. . . )

I first got on this train of thought while thinking about the word “entertainment” in the context of museums. We’ve well and truly moved on from the days when it was assumed education and entertainment were polar opposites. Even so, entertainment may not be the best word to use – “enjoyment” is spontaneously mentioned far more frequently by visitors than entertainment is [1]. I started off thinking that entertainment conjured up an image of a more passive kind of engagement – entertainment as something that is done to you.  On the other hand, enjoyment implies something that was more active and participatory- you enjoy doing something. I thought this might relate to lean forward versus lean back experiences, but now I’m not so sure it’s as simple as that.

What do you think?


[1] As reported by Tiina Roppola in Designing for the Museum Visitor Experience, 2012 (Routledge)

Beyond the comfort zone

I’ve recently returned from a month-long sojourn in the US. In contrast to my frenetically paced, museum-focused study tour of 2012, this trip was primarily a holiday. Nonetheless, while in New York I eventually decided I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see the immersive theatre production Sleep No More. If nothing else, I itched to find out for myself what my venerable colleagues Suse Cairns, Ed Rodley and Seb Chan had been talking about all this time.

Sleep No More in Brief

The links above provide more detail that I won’t duplicate here, but to give a quick rundown: Sleep No More (SNM) is an immersive performance staged over five storeys of a converted warehouse in Chelsea. Upon arrival you navigate a dark, labyrinthine corridor to emerge at the Manderley Bar, which has a 1930s, film noir kind of feel (as does the production as a whole). In small groups you are escorted into an elevator, briefed, given a mask (only the performers are unmasked) and instructed to remain silent throughout the performance. Then, over the next three hours or so, it’s up to you to create your own experience: wander the spaces, explore the sets, follow different characters as they move through the different spaces and interact with one another. There is no dialogue, just a music soundtrack, movement, gesture and dance.

The Reluctant Visitor

I confess I needed some convincing to go see SNM (Seb finally talked me around when we caught up over lunch in NYC). Based on what I’d read, I suspected it wouldn’t particularly be my thing. Firstly, there would be lots of things happening at once and I’d need to make snap decisions about what to see and where to go, constantly facing the possibility I’d missed all the important bits (I hate that). Secondly, the performance is loosely based on Macbeth, a play I’ve never read and only have the vaguest idea of its plot (that’s the price of being in the science stream at high school). Finally, when it comes to theatre I feel like a bit of a dimwit at the best of times – I’m tone-deaf to its nuances and unless something’s really spelled out, I can miss the point spectacularly. So, chances were I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea of what’s going on at SNM. However, Seb finally appealed to the exhibition designer in me, saying that if nothing else I should have a look at the layout of the spaces and the detail of the set design.

The Misfit Visitor

As it became time to head out from my hotel, I began to worry that I would be a bit of a square peg at this kind of gig. SNM being a piece of non-mainstream theatre in a city like New York, I pictured the crowd as being uber-hip arts afficionados. With my look being distinctively more housewife than hipster (especially given I’d packed for comfort, not trendsetting), I feared I’d stick out like a sore thumb – an unsophisticated out-of-towner who’d showed up to the wrong show by accident. Now this discomfort wasn’t enough to put me off from going – after all, I was there to research and observe, not fit in and make friends – but still I’m grateful for the reassurances I received over Twitter on my way there (thanks Mia, Seb and Suse!).

I emphasise this point because I think it’s instructive to go places where we think we won’t fit in from time to time. If we’ve been going to cultural venues for most of our lives, it’s easy to forget that visiting such places is not a natural and obvious thing for everyone. Particularly considering demographic groups who don’t tend to visit museums, I wonder how many of them are put off going because they’re worried that they’ll inadvertently do something inappropriate, or that staff and fellow visitors will somehow look down their noses at them? It’s useful to walk a mile in those shoes every so often.

My Experience

Similarly to my experience at MONA earlier this year, I made a conscious decision to be a “passenger” rather than a “driver”. I would go with the flow, explore and not worry too much about trying to “get” everything that was going on. This turned out to be a good approach as I would not really be able to tell you anything meaningful regarding what SNM was “about”, and I’m not really sure I’d do any better even if I had tried to follow and decode it more closely. I recognised up front that trying to make sense of all aspects of the experience was an exercise in futility. This strategy helped me avoid the frustration I’d normally experience when something happens that I don’t understand.

When it came to following the action I had an added practical problem – my size. I’m only 155cm (5’1″) tall. Most of the action was taking place within relatively confined spaces, in which I had to compete with lots of other audience members to get a glimpse of what was going on. Sometimes it was just too hard for me to get a clear line of sight to the performers, especially at times when they suddenly darted off to another part of the building (and I didn’t feel sure-footed enough in the dimly lit environment to join the scrum running after them). This frenetic pace got a bit much for me and most of the time I preferred to simply potter around the incredibly detailed sets: flicking through books, opening drawers, touching costumes, reading letters, and in some cases feeling through the darkness to see if a hidden area would reveal itself. These spaces appealed to literally all the senses: a range of different smells; the subversive feel of taking sweets from the sweet shop; the shock of unexpectedly brushing up against wet laundry hanging out.

On Seb’s recommendation I visited SNM alone, so the solo nature of the experience did not bother me. In fact I liked being able to follow my nose and spend as much or as little time as I wanted to at various things. However, despite ushers encouraging solo exploration during the briefing, I noticed a large number of couples and groups attempting to stay together during the performance  (I didn’t see ushers actively separating couples like Ed did so maybe they don’t enforce the solitary-ness as much as they used to).

Closing Thoughts

Overall I’m glad I went, and it’s the sort of thing you could go to again: no two visits would be the same, and you may also get more out of it if you’ve been before and already have a  sense of the layout of the space and how the whole thing works. Based on the way some of my fellow audience members appeared to anticipate certain events, I think there were quite a few repeat visitors.

However, even though SNM  was interesting to explore and my attention was engaged throughout, it still niggles me somewhat to experience something for three hours and at the end of it gain no sense of understanding regarding what it was all about. I think I’m one of those people who gains pleasure from having a glimmer of recognition and being able to work something out. Without this sense of closure, there is a slight feeling of being left hanging.


More on the Guest-Host Relationship in Museums

In a previous post, Interpretive Empathy, I started to explore the issue of treating visitors as “guests”, and what assumptions underlie such a definition. Alli Burness has posted a piece in response, in which she discusses the role of a feeling of belonging in the context of a guest-host relationship. This has made me think a little more about the guest-host dynamic and what it means for museums.

I should place this guest-host discussion in some sociocultural context, as the way we perceive being guests or hosts will depend on our cultural attitudes. Despite our reputation for being laid back and welcoming, studies have shown that compared to some countries, Australians are quite reluctant to invite guests into their homes – particularly people they don’t know well. I remember it being drummed into me during my during my childhood that when visiting friends I had to be a “good” guest – which, among other things, meant that I should not “wear out my welcome”. This shows how in Australian culture, being a guest can be fraught with trepidation. Hosts are assumed to be hosting you under sufferance.  Thus, as a guest you must tread carefully, avoiding inadvertently flouting unspoken rules or norms of behaviour. This anxiety of being in unfamiliar territory can be amplified if you perceive your host to be one of your social “betters” in some way shape or form (and despite what they say, Australia isn’t a classless society and there is an unspoken social hierarchy).

Compare this trepidation surrounding visiting someone new to visiting a family member or close friend. The anxiety about unspoken rules is not there, the “welcome” is sufficiently robust to be never “worn out”, and you don’t feel like anyone’s going to judge you on the basis of any behavioural faux pas.

And this brings me back to Alli’s idea of belonging – there are obviously different flavours of guest-host relationship. Familiarity is a big factor – if you’ve visited hundreds of museums before, then you’re likely to feel more comfortable irrespective of how well that museum does their “welcome”. But what if you’re less familiar? Creating that sense of belonging – coupled with a willingness to share – might be the key ingredient to a guest-host relationship that really works.

Museum Moments: Toulouse-Lautrec and the Waitress

I was in Canberra for the weekend and had some free time late on Saturday morning. With no real fixed agenda, I found myself drifting towards the National Gallery of Australia carpark (mainly because I knew how to get there and it’s a convenient location for a few institutions). Almost on a whim I decided to buy a ticket for the Toulouse-Lautrec: Paris and the Moulin Rouge exhibition. While obvious in hindsight, I hadn’t thought about how crowded a blockbuster exhibition would be at 11.30am on a Saturday until I was in and amidst the throng. Crowds might not lend themselves to a contemplative experience, but they offer a ripe opportunity for people watching.

One of the first things I noticed was an interesting example in crowd “training”. In the first gallery, I leaned toward a painting to get a closer look and felt something brushing against my shin. I looked down to see a low barrier set about 50cm off the wall – the clear message was to keep my distance! So I stepped back and continued along the wall, maintaining that distance as I turned the corner. About halfway along the next wall, I noticed there was no longer a physical barrier at shin level, but I still instinctively had kept the same 50cm distance from the gallery wall. And here’s the interesting thing – everyone else had as well! I don’t know if this was a deliberate tactic by the gallery or just a coincidence, but I don’t remember seeing those barriers in the rest of the exhibit and nonetheless visitors kept a reasonably constant distance from the works throughout.

The exhibition was broadly chronological with some sub-themes exploring how Toulouse-Lautrec came to be interested in Parisian street life and brothels. The work that captured my attention the most was not the famous posters (they were as expected), but rather this work about halfway through the exhibition depicting Jeanne Wenz as a waitress:

At the Bastille, Jeanne Wenz, 1887, oil on canvas (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC)

I found this work totally captivating in the flesh (the online images don’t quite convey the light and texture of the original). It’s hard to put my finger on why – perhaps it’s her direct, piercing gaze or the slightly enigmatic expression. Nonetheless this work was the stand-out piece of the exhibition for me (giving my novice, untutored-in-art-history perspective). This triggered my curiosity regarding how other visitors perceived it. And as I was looking at it I overheard another woman discussing the work with her companion, speculating about the woman’s strange half-smile and the likelihood of her sore feet at the end of a hard shift. I made a mental note to come back and have another look once I saw the rest of the exhibition.

Coming back, I sat on a bench near the work and watched. It did appear to be a popular work, with most people stopping at it and reading the label, and some people seemingly drawn to it from across the room as I was. It was a brief and highly unsystematic study though, and I was not able to compare its relative attracting and holding power to the rest of the exhibition.

While I was watching visitors come and go, oblivious to this other visitor in their midst, I noticed that I too was being watched. I had obviously sparked the interest of the security guard positioned near the work and for whom my seat was in the direct line of view. He watched me with a look of slightly amused curiosity. I wonder what he thought I was up to? Did something about me give the game away that I somehow wasn’t an ‘ordinary’ visitor? I guess I’ll never know, but I shot him an enigmatic half smile of my own as I walked on.



Shifting the Research Lens

In visitor experience workshops I have frequently pointed out the need to question our cultural assumptions – if we’ve grown up always visiting museums and heritage sites, it can be hard to know how our institutions come across from the point of view of someone for whom visiting is an alien concept. But let’s take a step further back for a moment – what assumptions and unspoken rules are embedded throughout our “Western” culture?

Recently I participated in a doctoral research project by Dr Lorraine Muller called “Shifting the Lens: Indigenous Research into Mainstream Australian Culture”. The whole idea of the project is to study mainstream Australian culture from an Indigenous perspective, and to examine those assumptions of the culture that seem alien from an Indigenous perspective. I volunteered as someone who could speak from their experience of being a ‘mainstream Australian’, and who was willing to share my understanding of the basis of some of these assumptions.

It was tricky at times, especially trying to explain why things such as Spirituality and connection to Country – central tenets of the Indigenous world view – have such low priority in mainstream culture.  Almost by definition, they are concepts I’ve given very little thought. Others were a little easier to conceptualise, such as why we see Individualism as such a positive attribute (I suspect it has roots in Protestant theology, which, as I understand it, prioritises the individual relationship with God through scripture rather than liturgy).

Since I participated in this research project, I’ve been giving “Indigenous-mainstream” relations a fair bit of thought. As there are stages of colonisation, so there are stages of de-colonisation. So where do I fit in to this decolonisation process? I consider myself relatively ignorant of Indigenous culture and world-view. But how do I learn more? I have fears of asking inappropriate questions, saying the wrong thing, or inadvertently causing offence. And I suspect I’m far from the only one. But we need to collectively work past this barrier if we are to work closer towards reconciliation. For this reason I’ve found being involved in Lorraine’s research personally enriching.

I didn’t realise the extent to which the unspoken rules, hidden assumptions and different world views were such a barrier to Indigenous people ‘getting on’ in mainstream Australia, and I wonder if this is the root cause of so many well-meaning initiatives that have failed to improve the life circumstances of so many Indigenous Australians. On one level this is disheartening, because such fundamental mutual incomprehension makes the barriers to reconciliation seem so insurmountable. But on the other hand, knowing the barriers are there might make it that bit easier to address them.

I would encourage other people who self identify as non-Indigenous ‘mainstream’. Australians to consider participating in Lorraine’s research. This is actually her second PhD – in her first she documented the theory that informs Indigenous Australians in the helping professions, Indigenous Australian Social-Health Theory. This second PhD has arisen from the first, where participants identified that there are some aspects of mainstream culture that they would like to know about. A PhD presents a respectful way to ask these questions. If you’re interested, I’d encourage you to contact her via

Dr Lorraine Muller
BSocSc-BSW Hons, PhD
PhD (2nd) Candidate
School Medicine and Dentistry
James Cook University

She is particularly interested in speaking to people in the medical / health professions, as well as young adults.

Why is sport “easy”, but art “hard”?

With the London Olympics just around the corner, it seems like a good time to contemplate the cultural significance of sport in relation to the arts.

Think about the typical sections in an average newspaper, or an evening news bulletin – sport is usually second only to breaking news in terms of prominence. It’s seen as a perfectly natural and normal thing to foster an interest in. There seems to be an assumption that sport (primarily spectator sport) is for the ‘everyman’ – egalitarian and intellectually undemanding. By comparison, the arts (and sciences for that matter) are often cast as the exclusive domain of the intellectually minded and culturally initiated – the ‘elites’. But can we take it as axiomatic that a football game is inherently more accessible than a Van Gogh?

Sport is full of shared norms, assumptions and meanings that are by no means obvious to an outsider – the scoring structure of gymnastics and the offside rule in soccer are just two examples that spring immediately to mind. People who would never consider themselves “intellectual” will happily muse for hours about the strategy of a match or the merit of an umpire’s decision. Sporting choices are also laden with significance – our cultural identity, socio-economic status or ethnic background can all be reflected in the sports we follow.

In contrast, a work of art can have many of layers of meaning that would take an expert to deconstruct, but it can also be appreciated on the basis of pure aesthetics (as can sport). While there are certainly codes, norms and assumptions surrounding the arts, I would argue they are no more difficult to become conversant with than those associated with many sports. So why is one seen as inherently more accessible than the other?

It probably comes down to enculturation – I was raised in an AFL-loving family and Dad sitting me down and explaining the rules to me was just a natural part of growing up. Attending Saturday matches was a regular winter ritual. But visiting museums and art galleries was also part of my upbringing. So while I don’t always profess to ‘get’ art (or Dad’s forensic post-match analysis for that matter), I don’t find either inherently inaccessible either.

However it seems that “high” and “low” culture frequently regard each other with mutual suspicion. And does cut both ways – a friend of mine once told me how his theatrical colleagues were bemused by his love of Port Power, as to them it seemed to be an interest not worthy of a patron of the arts. While I don’t approve of his choice of team (Go Crows!), I’m siding with my friend on this one.

Theatre Review: Sepia

I recently went to see Sepia – the play at the RiAus Science Exchange. Ostensibly, it’s a play about Whyalla’s cuttlefish. But Sepia uses this as a springboard to offer us a window into the tensions and compromises facing many of the communities that are dependent on resources wealth.

It is a play in three parts, told in reverse chronology. As a prelude to the first scene, we are surrounded by the gurgling sound effects of an undersea environment, accompanied by projected images of frolicking cuttlefish. Through the darkness we see a lone figure sitting in a wetsuit, looking wistfully into the distance. . . 

Read the rest of this review on the RiAus blog.


Theatre Review: Raoul

I have very little knowledge of theatre, and feel hideously underqualified to review it. But what the heck, I’m going to do it anyway.

But first a little background – particularly for those of you who are not in Australia. We’re currently slap bang in the middle of what Adelaideans call “Mad March” – the time where the city takes advantage of the pleasant Autumn weather and crams in as many activities as physically possible. Most of these events are held under the banner of the Adelaide Festival or the Adelaide Fringe, both huge arts festivals that together manage to take over (what feels like) the entire city for a few weeks each year.

For the past few days I’ve been volunteering as a live tweeter at Artists’ Week and Writers’ Week, which are both part of the Adelaide Festival (more on this in a future post). One of the perks of being a Festival volunteer is being able to pick up heavily discounted tickets for the coming evening’s shows.

During Mad March, choice paralysis is a real problem: there is so much on that it can be hard to decide what to go and see – especially if you don’t feel all that knowledgeable about the performing arts (and I don’t). It’s actually a good insight into barriers to visitiation, but I digress . . . 

This year, the buzz about town seemed to be about the show Raoul – I was hearing people saying it was one of the best things they had ever seen. That kind of endorsement, combined with the fact that I was able to get a very cheap ticket indeed, meant that going to see it was a no-brainer.

A Publicity Shot of "Raoul"

Raoul is a one-man show by French/Swiss performer James Theirree. In the production notes it says that Thierree has worked as a circus performer since the age of 4, which is clear from his acrobatic prowess, precision of movement and sense of comic timing.

The storyline of this almost dialogue-free performance is a little harder to distill – I saw one review that described it as a “philosophical exploration of one’s existence“, but I’d be lying if I said that I read anything that deep into it. For me it was more of a Dali-esque flight of fantasy, a journey into a slightly comic and absurd world filled with improbable creatures and everyday objects that had somehow acquired minds of their own. And then there is Raoul. Or should I say Raouls?

The plot, such as there is one, revolves around the battle for supremacy between different incarnations of Raoul. These different Raouls periodically challenge one another, their battles choreographed through a combination of theatrical effects, deft movements and a body double. There were audible gasps of amazement at the sudden appearance and disappearance of Raoul, and at times it really did seem like Thierree was managing to be in two places at once.

In between these battles-of-the-Raouls, each Raoul contends with recalcitrant props and the increasingly precarious state of his surroundings, combining acrobatics, dance, sound effects and physical comedy (sometimes executed with a knowing wink to the audience). He meets a flighty jellyfish, argues with a large fish, takes flight from a aggressive armoured bug, hangs out with a skeletal bird and cuddles up next to a ghostly elephant (all of these creatures realised through a combination of elaborate costume and puppetry).

The set design has a stripped down and deconstructed feel: the colour palette is muted and desaturated, comprising a backdrop of off-white sails and a central cage-like structure of metal poles. This rickety structure improbably support’s Raoul’s weight as he uses it as a climbing frame, even as it disintegrates before our eyes. By the end of the performance both structure and backdrop have disappeared, leaving a blank and black stage. At this point Raoul is lifted skyward to finish the show.

It is a testament to Thierree’s talent that this solo performance was able to keep an audience captivated for the best part of 100 minutes. And while during the show I periodically worried that there was some deeper ‘message’ that I was somehow failing to ‘get’, by the end of the show I was happy to simply enjoy the spectacle.