Michelle Langille and Robert Clarke
Clique Claque by Mark Brownell (Pea Green Theatre/Next Stage). Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst). Jan 6 at 9:30 pm, Jan 7 at 8:30 pm, Jan 8 at 4 pm, Jan 9 at 6:45 pm, Jan 11 at 8:45 pm, Jan 13 at 5 pm, Jan 14 at 6:30 pm, Jan 15 at 2:45 pm. $15, festival passes $48-$90. See listing. 416-966-1062, fringetoronto.com. Rating: NNNN
You may think you know what you enjoy at the theatre, but Clothilde (Michelle Langille) and Yannick (Robert Clarke) would disagree. We audience members are simply sheep, says the pair. They are the shepherds who, along with the paid claque they run, sway our reactions to performances, letting us know whether to cheer or boo.
That’s the premise of Mark Brownell’s Clique Claque, set in 1883 Paris. At the start of the show we get an insight into the tricks of Clothilde and Yannick’s trade, as viewers become potential new claque employees; the two use their minion, Clementine (Thalia Kane), to demonstrate various techniques.
Another new member is Victor (Victor Pokinko), a Canadian musical prodigy who’s left his backwoods homeland for the excitement of Paris. Then there’s the claque’s rival, Dubosc (Ron Kennell), a student who despises their work and wants art to speak for itself.
Brownell’s rich script is full of hearty laughs, some intentionally bleak moments and a few thoughtful comments about the nature of entertainment. Under Sue Miner’s direction, the production – which includes a touch of period melodrama – is fast-moving and full of delightful episodes. It plays out on a nearly bare stage other than some chairs and a revolving gold, white and red structure, the actors clothed in Nina Okens’s elegant costumes.
Clarke and Langille make a commanding couple, he disdainful of artists as well as audience members and she subtly manipulative in handling everyone around her. Kane’s Clementine isn’t initially well defined but develops into a waif whose truthfulness is open to question. Pokinko makes an ideal ingenue, transitioning from a nervous, insecure newcomer to an adult who realizes the truth of his life. His interactions with the magnetic Kennell are among the show’s best; the scene that involves seduction by chocolate is a standout.
Mixed into the comedy and fun are a few visions of the future, unsettling visions suggesting that telling an audience its taste isn’t simply a thing of the past.