MimeLondon: Romain Bermond and Jean-Baptiste Maillet on Antechamber

Stereoptik’s unique approach to theatre sees them creating the building blocks of an animated film in front of the audience’s eyes. Led by Romain Bermond and Jean-Baptiste Maillet, the French theatre company began its life in 2008 when the pair developed their first show, also titled Stereoptik.

They have joined me on a video call from France where they are working on their new show Antechamber, set to open at the Barbican Theatre later this month as part of MimeLondon festival. They last performed at the theatre in 2022 with their show Stellaire, a love story about the expansion of the universe.

Their approach to the festival has changed over the course of their visits. “The first time it was really new for us,” says Maillet.

“We did not know how the London audience [would] react, but it was a great success. The second time, it was a surprise because it was sold out before we [began]. So we are very happy….we are very happy to have an audience who want to see our new show and so it’s very exciting!”

The new show, described as “an animated film, a show and an exhibition all at the same time,” is set in the type of small antechamber rooms that are common in France, particularly in Paris, where they are used by students. While working on a thesis in his antechamber, the protagonist of the piece finds a photograph of himself as a child.

“In the photo, he is holding a butterfly,” says Bermond, “and [it] reminds him of his capacity to see the world as a child [where] everything is new, everything is interesting.”

The discovery of the photograph gives him a new ability; he is able “to travel to countries in his mind and see the world around him.” The antechamber of the title is the one in his head.

Maillet adds, ‘[As] an adult we have a lot of [responsibilities], a lot of work and [in] this life we cannot have a place for wonder… It’s what we lost when we [became] adults and we don’t know really why.”

When talking about how they have created the show, what is striking is the ability to tell this delicate tale of regaining and reclaiming a sense of wonder with uncomplicated and unassuming methods.

“In a lot of our shows, we are making a kind of movie… a live movie with very simple things; paper, pen, pencil. To make poetry with some very simple things. And [Antechamber is] not really a story, it’s not ‘once upon a time…’ – it’s more poetry. And our audience can have sensations: sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s more dark, but the story is not the most important thing,” says Maillet.

They have actively tried with Antechamber to progress their techniques, says Bermond, using simpler and simpler techniques to garner the poetry of the story, and opening up the blocking on stage so that the audience can see more of what they are doing and the techniques they are using to create the animated film within the show.

“It’s more simple than before, but it’s not less intense,” Bermond notes of shows, and he suggests a motive behind the ways they present the show.

“We try to give the audience the sensation that you can make something with nothing, or a few things. It’s not about technology, or [buying] something that allows you to make another thing, it’s about creativity and freedom. We try to keep that on the stage for the audience.”

They hope audiences see the show as “a poetry moment… away from the rest of the world, [away] from your life,” says Maillet, “A sweet moment; intense but sweet.”

And they try not to control how audiences encounter the work, recognising the personal experience between the audience and the show. “[Antechamber is] about creativity, it’s about love, it’s about nature… it talks about a lot of things. Everybody can make [their] own story with this show,” says Maillet. “You can imagine a lot of things,” he says, capturing that sense of wonder.

Antechamber is at the Barbican Theatre as part of MimeLondon 2024 from 30 January to 3 February 2024.

Images by Steroptik, Richard Schroeder and Christophe Reynaud de Lage.

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