Sydney Festival: L'Effet de Serge, where monotony meets magic

9 January 2012

L'Effet de Serge, on now at the Seymour Centre. [Image: Martin Argyroglo Callias Bey]
L'Effet de Serge, on now at the Seymour Centre. [Image: Martin Argyroglo Callias Bey]

The monotony of day-to-day existence is lit up with magic and humour at L'Effet de Serge, hosted by the Sydney Festival at the University's Seymour Centre.

The French production by Philippe Quesne/Vivarium Studio follows Serge, an excruciatingly ordinary single guy, as he passes time and stages shows for friends in his basement.

Between time spent watching TV, flying remote controlled helicopters and playing ping pong by himself, Serge invites friends over to entertain them with his homespun spectacles. Amateur pyrotechnics, light displays and remote control car dances are set to music, before the awkward Serge accepts praise and then shows his guests the door.

The tedium of watching Serge sitting at his ping pong table eating potato chips is contrasted by the magic that happens during his dramatic creations, including a light show that uses car headlights set to Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries and a very funny impromptu lights-off dance solo in which he wears glow-in-the-dark glasses and swings a neon rope. The rave-like dance ends when Serge, caught up in his moment of solitary insouciance, collides with a door and has to fill his bleeding nose with tissues before greeting his next guest with solemn dignity.

These spectacles are where L'Effet de Serge excels - Serge, played by actor Gaƫtan Vourc'h, for whom the play was written, brings real magic into the tedium of everyday routine. Each of his performances are fleeting (and very funny) moments of extravaganza amid the humdrum of the everyday. This juxtaposition between ordinary and extraordinary is powerful and often hilarious.

Vourc'h makes an excellent physical comedian, and the ridiculous majesty of his productions lights up the stage and the audience, who, perhaps following comparisons to Jacques Tati, Samuel Beckett and Mr Bean, seem keen to laugh.

His humour is peppered with pathos, which allows the play to explore themes of loneliness, community, creativity and the futility of routine with delicacy and humility. The parody of routine is compelling enough to make you feel quite silly when you get home and engage in your own mundane rituals.

The work is also quintessentially French - droll, dry and light of touch. Vourc'h's lilting French accent is also guaranteed to win over audiences.

A local flavour is provided by Serge's guests, who are all Sydney-based volunteers, including members of the University of Sydney community. When the audience members give Serge feedback about his performances in thick Australian accents, Serge's strange and insular world seems a little bit closer to our own.

The Sydney Festival is the first visit to Australia for L'Effet de Serge, which has been presented about 150 times in 22 different countries since it was created in 2007.

L'Effet de Serge runs until 11 January at the Seymour Centre. Book tickets online.

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