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London International Mime Festival 2013

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Mime time: I’ve decided three shows is the limit but luckily they were better than last year.

Not Until We Are Lost by Ockham’s Razor – This was described as an immersive promenade piece but this was code for being bossed from one side of the theatre to the other at various points – pretty much the opposite of immersive. The reason for the movement was that Ockham’s Razor are an aerial theatre group and the show was split between two bits of apparatus: a movable scaffolding set and a shit perspex chimney. Let’s ignore the latter. The scaffolding, however, was a big improvement on the last time I saw them. There was a lovely playfulness, a childlike exploration, to their interaction with the bars and each other which compensated for a performance that was technically very tame. Still, there were many points where I wished they’d been a bit bolder and more fluid in their transitions. As is so often the case with performance art, the score (by Graham Fitkin) was the best thing about it.

The Cardinals by Stan’s Cafe – Three cardinals and a female muslim stage manager are putting on a mime adaptation of the Bible. Sort of like the Reduced Shakespeare Company for God but without words. Or 90% of the jokes. Or, indeed, much reduction: this had been trundling along for an hour with no progress when an intermission was called. A foolish move since we left to get something to eat. Presumably some use would have been made of the frame at the conclusion of the piece but we weren’t sitting through another hour of interminable flannel to get to it. (I’d clocked this was likely to be rotten from the programme but my wife insisted on seeing it because Stan’s Cafe once did something clever with rice. They should stick to rice.)

Plan B by Compagnie 111/Aurélien Bory – Their previous show, ‘Sans Object’, was the star of the 2011 festival so I had high hopes for this. I wasn’t disappointed. With a wit and a fluency absent in the other shows, Compagnie are able to mine a simple but inspired concept (here translating the plane of the stage from the vertical to the horizontal and points in-between) to stunning effect. The piece is ten years old but still completely fresh. The French basically put the British to shame when it comes to circus and physical theatre.

Written by Martin

20 January 2013 at 10:07

London International Mime Festival 2012

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It is January so, once again, it is the mime festival. I only saw three shows this year and I chose… poorly.

The Table by Blind Summit – And so, the table. Three men and a cardboard puppet. On a table. Part puppetry masterclass, part gentle stand up and (least successfully) part existential drama, The Table got rave reviews in Edinburgh and is really enjoyable. However, it is apparently too short to attract a paying audience so Blind Summit have tacked a load of old crap on the end. After an hour or so of the main show we have first a bizarrely shit homage to Eighties pop videos and then a tediously protracted silent film told through A4 paper. They managed to completely invert the concept of leaving the audience wanting more.

L’Immédiat by Compagnie L’Immédiat/Camille Boitel – I was really looking forward to this but it turned out to be piss poor. The missus tried to suggest that our restricted view meant that we couldn’t really appreciate it and, while this was true enough (there was one 15 minute segment where we couldn’t see anything), what I could see was deeply uninspiring slapstick. There was one good bit of mime where one of the actors started to levitated and had to be pulled down to work (but they rather cheapened this by repeating it). Of course, it didn’t help that since this was a piece of physical theatre at the Barbican it was soundtracked by constant braying and hooting from an audience singularly unable to distinguish between comedy, tragedy or even repose. If you find the concept of a man in a purple dress jumping out of a cupboard hilarious, this is the show for you.

Mundo Paralelo by No Fit State Circus/National Theatre Wales and Théâtre Tattoo – According to the programme notes, the thread that held this circus show together was something to do with angels and parallel worlds. This was not at all apparent from the stalls as the cast limped through a series of watery pieces of basic circus that hesitantly segued into each other with only dire French accordion music to link them. Half the cast wore Victorian get up, the other half didn’t appear to have got the memo. There was no wit, grace, drama or even spectacle (with the exception of the excellent juggler).

London International Mime Festival 2011

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To my surprise, I ended up going to four shows as part of this years mime festival. To my further surprise, it was my wife who ended up moaning about the fact some of these shows – well, the French ones – actually featured mime.

La Maldición de Poe by Teatro Corsario – As the title (The Curse Of Poe) suggests, this is heavily inspired by the work of Edgar Allan Poe. Teatro Corsario cut down the already relatively intimate stage of the Purcell Rooms into a moodily lit box for puppetry as they take us through a series of mashed up vignettes so that, for example, ‘The Black Cat’ and ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ are superimposed on each other. Broodingly gothic in its tuberculour framing story, it also strongly tends to grand guignol and is shot through with scatological humour. A lot of fun and never out-stayed its welcome (although perhaps the performers didn’t need to take four bows).

Sans Objet by Compagnie 111/Aurelien Bory – If The Curse Of Poe was fun, Sans Objet was simply stunning. Something squats dragon-like beneath a vast tarpaulin which covers the whole stage. It starts to move; rearing up, turning its head, swooping down. Two men walk on stage and (with some choreographed difficulty) remove the sheet to reveal the creature. Incongruously, it is a robot. Not a humanoid or even animal-like robot but a huge articulated arm such as you would see on a factory assembly line. Now, I’ve seen a man dance with a JCB but I’ve never seen a man dance with a robot. And it was wonderful. It was also technically astounding on a number of levels; contemporary dance, classic mime and modern engineering combining with an uncanny grace.

Flesh and Blood, Fish and Fowl by Geoff Sobelle and Charlotte Forde – This is an exercise in exponentially increasing entropy. A man emerges from a bin and prepares himself for another day in an anonymous American office. He is a Brentish figure who Sobelle acts out in a series of fastidious and grotesque tics. It soon becomes clear he has nothing to do. Enter Forde, his secretary, in a deeply uncomfortable parody parade of lasciviousness. There is an exquisite, excruciating drawn out ‘courtship’ which is eventually consummated in the same bin Sobelle emerged from. Whilst this is happening we have the insistent, cumulative intrusion of nature (in the form of stuffed animals and plastic vines) which gradually usurp the humans. Apparently inspired by the abandoned city of Chernobyl, there are bursts of brilliant physical comedy here but I’m not so sure it makes a cohesive whole (although, of course, so much performance disdains this very concept).

Du Goudron et des Plumes by Compangie MPTA/ Maturin Bolze – This reminded me of The Mill (the only thing I saw at last year’s festival) in that having built their wonderful prop, the company didn’t seem to know what to do with it. A huge suspended platform sways in the middle of the stage, over the course of the performance it will move horizontally and vertically and the performers on it will come to resemble mariners on a great ship. But the great metaphorical potential of this transformation is wasted. The piece starts hypnotically and builds to a destructive crescendo but then, fatally, goes back in the opposite direction, becoming simply boring rather than quietly compelling. There are some nice bits of business, particularly an emotionally-charged imaginary dinner party, but to often it is repetitive and anti-climatic. They received a standing ovation; my wife turned to me with a sour look.

Workers Playtime

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Capitalism is wrong. This goes without saying yet people still feel the need to say it. This is fine if you are going to be sharp but if you are going to be blunt, why bother?

I’d heard good things about Ockham’s Razor but unfortunately The Mill was not very impressive. It is part of the 2010 London International Mime Festival but I prefer to think of it as physical theatre and the performers’ interaction with the set is the heart of the piece. Discussing this in an interview with the Guardian, one of them says that “we bashed around with various Heath Robinson-style systems, and they were all rubbish”. They have ended up with something quite simple but they fail to really exploit its full potential. The company works outward from their equipment and so here we move from the great millwheel at the centre of the stage to the concept of a mill itself to an examination of labour. They work, they change shift, they rest and enter a child-like state of grace, they return to the crushing conformity of work, they rebel, they stand around wanting to know what comes next. We slip out into the night, unmoved, to get a good night’s sleep before the wheel starts again.

I did like Derek Nisbet’s score though.

Written by Martin

20 January 2010 at 12:51

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