Cie Les Vagues/Joachim Maudet

Three hieroglyphics, clad in canary yellow rollnecks, stand motionless on stage. As we take our seats, they preserve a performer’s classically neutral expression. Then there’s crackle like radio static. A greeting can be discerned: ‘Hi John’ we hear, then ‘Rosa’, ‘Frederic’, and a certain ‘Chantal’ is asked her age. The voices are human, but there’s a whiff of AI too. They scroll through a medley of musings while sidling across the stage, shifting position, one arm or shoulder at a time, slowing descending from vertical to crouching and up again. It finally dawns on us that it is they, with their fixed faces, who have been commenting all the time.

Ventriloquism has oft been used to say what would otherwise be impossible to stomach. Joachim Maudet has dextrously reclaimed the form to do just that. Welcome, personifies the dislocation of the world and everything that is clearly off, but so layered and difficult to articulate. Its simplicity and wry humour are beguiling. But, like caged canaries, it’s the moments of silence and stillness that cause the biggest frisson.

Oonagh Duckworth

Compagnie Les Vagues’s Welcome starts by drawing a line on warm greetings. Slowly moving sideways in flashy yellow tops, the three performers gaze in the distance as words echo faintly in the room – names at first, then funny anecdotes and gossip, growing into a cacophony of animal cries, vocalising, car-engine rumbling and onomatopeia. It actually takes a while to acknowledge that all these noises emanate from the three bodies slowly gathering centre stage. But the ventriloquists were not meant to keep their lips still: sticking their tongues out at articulated speech, they engage in a truly creative and literal tongue choreography to festive samba music.

But the dance drifts from captivating to unsettling, as the trio starts a rat race, shaking and slapping each other’s legs and arms, and eventually ripping off tops. No wonder this twisted jumble might leave them breathless. The performance itself was breathtaking.

Callysta Croizer

Joaquim Caudet, Sophie Lebre and Pauline Bigot await us like tilted mannequins in matching yellow turtlenecks, intently gazing above rigid expressions of alarm. Shifting ever so slowly towards centrestage, they greet us ventriloquially and by name! (Apparently the cast absorbed the guest list before each performance.) A great start to an original, unpredictable piece of precision sound-and-motion goofiness loaded with bizarre comic charm. Lips don’t move, yet words and sounds – talking or vocalising, bleating and growling – emanate.

Just as this remarkably adept, disarming aural dance begins to seem like a cul de sac and stunt, we’re pleasurably wrong-footed by an extended tableau of tongue choreography (with eyes shut) cued to a seductive blast of carnival samba. Increasingly frantic jerks, spasms and mugging ensue, as if something wild and bottled-up is being released.

Still. the three remain a communal unit. Their physical control is wholly admirable, especially given the choreographic constraints. But it’s the combination of unexpected skills at the service of oddball humour that is so winning.

Donald Hutera

Nothing betrays the speech of each cast member in Welcome but a vibrating larynx. And the changing of their positions creep up on you like old age—barely perceptible if not for a sudden realisation that the composition is not what it was.

Joaquim Caudet, Sophie Lebre and Pauline Bigot are practitioners of scary magic, sneakily lulling you into doing their bidding. ‘They’re in the audience,’ one or another of them voices without moving the lips. (Yes… I am in the audience.) ‘They’re closing their eyes.’ (Yes… I am closing my eyes; I obey, because I’m afraid of what will happen if I don’t.) ‘How cute they look.’ (Yes. I do look cute.)

Those poor, tense bodies. I was yearning for their release! Kept on edge, I longed for them to break loose into some frenzied dance—an obvious solution. But absurdity done well requires logic. And the release that finally came made sense: Three tongues merry-go-rounding three mouths, making playgrounds of three faces. This painstaking piece’s hidden muscle was at last uncaged, spreading a rampant freedom.

Djalil Sultani