It’s 1880, and the theatres of Paris are under the thrall of the elegant and cutthroat Madame Clothilde (Michelle Langille), a sinister “Chef de Claque” whose band of professional “clappers” can manipulate any audience in town.
It’s into this den of theatrical vipers and vampires stumbles Victor (Victor Pokinko), a hapless young Canadian musician–and thus begins Clique Claque, a period melodrama now on stage as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival.
Clique Claque opens up with a direct appeal to the audience, and for a moment we’re the ones auditioning for Clotilde’s band of clappers. The show has occasional moments of breaking the fourth wall, and the whole space gets used, from planted “clappers” in the audience to characters roaming the front aisle.
There’s a sly sense of humour that pervades the piece in this way: Clique Claque is a show not so much about theatre itself but about the audiences that flock to them. It looks beyond the stage and into the faces of the people watching and commenting, extending the illusions and trickery of the theatre itself into the real world.
What results is a funny, sharp production about a fascinatingly devious array of characters, each one a performer to some degree.
This is a play awash in frank and winking sexuality, carried off by an able and likeable cast. Langille and Clarke play the vicious husband-and-wife team in charge of the clappers as a hilariously cutthroat pair with believably callous chemistry, two vicious minds united in deviousness. Clarke’s growly and foul-mouthed Yannick pairs wonderfully with Langille’s elegant and manipulative Clotilde. Think the Thénardiers of Les Misérables fame, only with more affection and (mostly) more polish.
Rounding out the cast are Thalia Kane and Victor Pokinko as Clementine and Victor, two clappers under Clotilde’s employ. Like Langille and Clarke, these two are paired well here: Kane’s worldliness has a subtle grit that makes for a fine contrast to Pokinko’s fresh-faced energy and charm. Ron Kennell also has an engaging turn as an Oscar Wildean heckler, exuding class.
It all wraps up in a brilliantly costumed, sharp-tongued ninety minutes–a fascinating look into the strange and sometimes dastardly fringes of the theatrical world. Clique Claque relishes in its own deviousness with a deft hand and many a wink, and I challenge you not to clap along.
- All Next Stage Theatre Festival performances are being held at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St.)
- Tickets for Mainstage and Studio shows are $15 and $10 for Ante-chamber performances
- Showtimes and ticket information are available at fringetoronto.com/next-stage-festival/
Image of Mark Brownell (playwright) and Sue Miner (director) by Tanja Tiziana