Brothers devour a bizarre slice of history for story
The man who ate everything | Laura Enfield
Watch a puppet swallow a snake live on stage in The Depraved Appetite Of Tarrare The Freak.
Much more than just a gimmick, this chamber opera is based on the bizarre and true story of an 18th century Frenchman who had one of the first recorded cases of polyphagia.
The medical disorder left him unable to feel full and suffering from an insatiable hunger. But it also took him on amazing adventures into the world of the French Revolution as a spy.
His story is being brought to the stage at Wilton’s Music Hall from January 30 to February 18 by the Poster brothers and Wattle And Daub Figure Theatre.
Puppeteer Tobi Poster dreamt up the action while classical pianist Tom has written the score.
Tobi, 31, said: “I was clicking through Wikipedia one day and found myself reading about this guy who had a sideshow in Paris swallowing cats and snakes and pocket watches whole and regurgitating them.
“He was recruited by the French Revolutionary Army to smuggle documents in his stomach.
“Instantly I knew I had to put it on stage and as a puppet opera – it is such an outlandish story.”
The little information that is known about Tarrare has been gleaned from the notes of the doctor who treated him – and the show opens with his autopsy.
It goes on to delve into the macabre myths surrounding Tarrare, who by 17 could eat a quarter of his body weight every day, but was only 7st 2lbs, and who sweated so profusely a vapour could be seen rising from his body after he had eaten.
The show mixes pathos and humour to present him as a monster and victim who was exploited by the military and experimented on by doctors.
Tobi said: “His life was literally a freak show. He was a man who could swallow cats but also a human being who had a difficult and ultimately tragic life.” He died aged 26. It is the first time the siblings have teamed up for a full scale project and both said it has been a wonderful experience merging their creative forces.
South Londoner Tom, 35, who appeared as a soloist on the film soundtrack for The Theory
Of Everything, said: “This is by far the most substantial thing we have done. When Tobi first told me about it I thought it was brilliant and bizarre. And, of course, I wondered how it was going to work.
“But using puppets has been a really rewarding process. It frees up the singers to sing multiple roles.
“With puppets you can be more extreme and eclectic. I have explored that through the music and it led to a score that is really colourful.” Jan 30-Feb 18, £10-20, Wilton’s Music Hall, wiltons.org.uk
The Depraved Appetite Of Tarrare The Freak
Tobi Poster with Tarrare