Don’t look into the wardrobe: are Peeping Tom the world’s freakiest theatre troupe?

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Knock, knock. Who’s there? In Peeping Tom’s suspenseful shows you tin ne'er beryllium sure. The Belgium-based dance-theatre institution builds atmospheric and often bewildering signifier architecture. The Missing Door, The Lost Room and The Hidden Floor – a triptych they are taking to the UK – unfastened up noirish worlds of intrigue, illusions and lugubrious comedy. These walls not lone person ears but full-blown personalities; the closets don’t person skeletons but full bodies; look successful 1 of their mirrors and the look you spot won’t beryllium yours.

The triptych is an aggravated nighttime out, opening with a maid mopping up humor and ending with thing little than the apocalypse. But co-artistic manager Franck Chartier, wearing a goatee and a large grin, is successful a breezy temper erstwhile helium arrives connected his scooter to conscionable for greeting java successful Ostend. It’s much than 20 years since helium founded the institution with his partner, Gabriela Carrizo. Where did that sanction travel from? “We are ever a spot similar this arsenic creators,” helium says, leaning implicit conspiratorially. “We look astatine people,” helium continues, casting an oculus astatine the unsuspecting mates adjacent to america successful the cafe. “We ticker however radical eat, who they are, we get ideas. We look for situations successful existent beingness and successful our families. We speech astir taboos. We thought, ‘OK, we are benignant of peeping toms.’” He looks a small uneasy. “I don’t cognize – successful English, it has a intersexual connotation?”

A pistillate   rides a tiny   bicycle done  a radical  of monstrous backward-face creatures
Peeping Tom’s Eurudike de Beul successful Child (Kind), which played successful London successful 2020. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Their archetypal creation, Caravana successful 1999, was performed successful a motorhome. “We were inside,” helium explains, “and the assemblage were looking in.” Locked rooms, of the psyche oregon otherwise, person ever funny the company, arsenic person antithetic types of inheritance. “In the location of my parent determination is simply a agelong past of ghosts,” helium says matter-of-factly, telling maine stories astir the spectres of a household who lived there. “But me? I ne'er felt it,” helium adds with a shrug.

The Missing Door started retired arsenic a 2013 collaboration betwixt Carrizo and Nederlands Dans Theater. “Those dancers are …” Chartier searches for the connection but settles connected a wondrous “oooof!” Remounting it this time, alongside the trilogy’s aboriginal instalments, “We thought, ‘OK, it’s rather analyzable technically. We person to find radical who are capable to bash this.’” They advertised, received 2,000 applications from astir the satellite and auditioned a staggering 600 people. “We’re not utilized to doing auditions,” helium explains, arsenic the institution often reuses the aforesaid performers.

He and Carrizo deliberation astir the acceptable earlier the characters. “We mightiness not yet cognize who we are but we cognize where we are.” In the triptych, we spot those sets dressed and dismantled arsenic Peeping Tom item the artifice of a amusement and the hive of method enactment required to enactment it on. Set and lighting besides harvester arsenic if to framework the enactment connected signifier successful wide surface and determination are freeze-frames and fast-forwards successful the storytelling. Chartier marvels astatine the powerfulness of cinematic surround-sound – “it has a hypnotic prime of helping you place with the character, putting you wrong their head” – and says they strive for that interaction successful theatre. “We utilized to deliberation representation is 75% of a scene. Then we realised dependable is 75%.”

Franck Chartier (right) with his co-artistic manager  of Peeping Tom, Gabriela Carrizo.
Franck Chartier (right) with his co-artistic manager of Peeping Tom, Gabriela Carrizo. Photograph: Jesse Willems

When Chartier started retired arsenic a dancer helium ne'er thought helium would direct: “I didn’t person that ambition.” From the property of 15 helium studied ballet astatine Rosella Hightower schoolhouse successful Cannes. “I near each my household and friends,” helium remembers. “It was hard for me.” At 19 helium joined Maurice Béjart’s Ballet du XXe Siècle; helium mimes his jaw dropping erstwhile recalling his arrival. After 3 years helium grew wary of the competitory environment: “I thought, ‘Dance is not this.’” Theatre and creation would go blended for him by moving with Alain Platel’s institution Les Ballets C de la B, wherever helium met Carrizo. “Normally a choreographer says, ‘Do this, bash this.’ But Alain opened up the situation. In the opening this was frightening but it gives work to the dancer arsenic creator.”

Peeping Tom’s ain methods necessitate “giving a batch of yourself”, helium says. “We person nary limits successful the studio.” But helium is speedy to admit that “we request to support the artist’s fragility – to let them to springiness thing truly idiosyncratic and not consciousness judged. The situation is rather relaxed truthful everyone tin accidental what they want.”

When the triptych reaches London planetary mime festival, it volition bring them backmost to the Barbican, wherever they had a deed with 32 Rue Vandenbranden which won an Olivier grant successful 2015. With a blameworthy twinkle helium recalls a enactment aft opening night. They’d been fixed a bouquet of flowers to people the occasion. “We became a spot chaotic and started to dance. By the end, determination were nary flowers left.” The Barbican told them they’d ne'er realised “how galore things you tin bash with flowers”. Perhaps they should person known this is simply a institution who ne'er permission a country successful the authorities they recovered it.

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