Archive for February, 2011


15 – 30 January 2011

Various venues

“The freedom to use one’s imagination and the chance not to be fettered by the limitation of language,” is what makes visual theatre so appealing according to Joseph Seelig, a co-director of the London International Mime Festival. Over the course of the last two weeks of January I saw several festival productions that bore witness to the truth of his words. In some ways the association of the festival with “mime” is an unfortunate one. That theatrical discipline has become so totally associated with the playful silence of genius Marcel Marceau that the mere utterance of the word inspires images of men with white faces pretending to go up and down in elevators, or polishing imaginary silver. The overriding theme of the festival however, is not mime in this sense, but “visual theatre” a catchall term that covers theatre not reliant on text: circus, puppetry, object theatre, physical theatre and live art.

I first got the bug for visual theatre when I saw Krzysztof Kieslowski’s cinematic masterpiece La Double Vie de Véronique. Some of the great centerpieces of the film feature puppetry and anyone that has had seen it will be able to testify to power of that artform. La Maldicion de Poe, which I reviewed extensively in this publication was a real powerhouse of raw feeling; puppetry at some of its staggering best. A performance by Les Anticlastes, a french company of puppeteers was an altogether more surreal experience. The show, Hilum, was based largely around the spin cycles of an ageing washing machine – if that sounds outright bizarre, then you won’t be far away from accurately imagining the show. Puppets made from skeletal hands, giant thumbs and old rags were manipulated in a world redolent of a disused curiosity shop. A throbbing and insistent electronic soundtrack had me on edge as we creaked through the twisted world created in the ICA theatre. Ultimately less plot driven than the Poe piece, it was a tour through the mind of creator Patrick Sims; disquieting, at times disturbing, but fantastical and compelling. Objects came to life and I could relate to them even though the bizarre logic of their existence folded into nothingness when the lights came up at the end of the show.

Clowning was the centrepiece of La Porta (The Door) as imagined by Kai Leclerc, Bernard Stockli and Andreas Manz three Swiss Italian clowns who make up a company called  Compagnia 2+1. The heart of the show was a red door that stood centre stage, over which they were all fighting for ownership rights. Each time the door opened a different world could be seen on the other side, and their characters were struggling to deal with the unforseen elements those worlds would throw at them. Sadly the execution was weak, and production values simply too low for the piece take me to the other imaginative realms the clowns so clearly wanted to create. The production felt like a mere setting for clowning set pieces, juggling, low level illusion and slapstick.

What was fascinating was the question an answers session after the performance. What is perhaps generally not realised about clowns is exactly how seriously they take their work, and how philosophically they see their craft. In full makeup and still in character they attempted to answer ridiculous questions posed by posing adults trying to understand the art of clowning. One plucky young girl asked, “is that your real hair”, and she was invited to get her response by tugging. Then she asked, “are you real clowns?” which had all three rather lost for words, and of course went direct to issue the adults could not even begin to truly tease out. “We are trying, every day we are trying” was the response that seemed to me to be given with a twinge of sadness.

The highlight of the festival for me was Le Jardin (The Garden) by Atelier Lefeuvre & André. The circus skills based show was set around the intriguing relationship between two gardeners, one of whom seemed to be in a position of total dominance over the other. They performed feats of skill using improvised implements such as  hosing, a wheel barrow, and oranges. They were presented with a combination of music and lighting that gave the piece a truly cinematic scope. The physical skills are of course possessed by many who have worked in circus, but the genius of this show was their ability to keep us guessing at the true nature of their wordless union, and to seamlessly flow through the garden setting to the physical performance.

“Language is very important” said Joseph, “but visual theatre capitalizes on theatrical possibilities such as movement and space”, possibilities that are often under-realised in theatre based on powerful oratory. The shows I saw without exception sought to transport audiences to places we are not accustomed to seeing on the London stage. The sheer inventiveness of the minds at work as well as the physical capabilities of the performers should be enough to animate and excite even the most rational and theory-weary LSE student. I am already excited for 2012.


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The Cripple of Inishmaan,

LSE Drama Society

LSE Old Theatre, Monday 31 Jan 2010

The task of a reviewer is in many ways an easy one. Matthew Wright in The Mirror once famously wrote that a show called The Dead Monkey was the “worst [he had] ever seen”, despite the fact that he had not even seen it. Generally though, most reviewers do see attendance as a compulsory component of the process, but it really is a very minimal commitment in terms of time and personal investment, as compared to the vast amount of passion and graft needed to actually get a show into production. I felt this distinction keenly on Monday night when I saw the LSE SU Drama Society’s production of The Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh, a play set in the 1930s on a small island community where a crippled boy dreams of one day escaping the small-town torment for a better life in the USA. I am lost to explain exactly how students facing the rigorous demands of an LSE academic training have the time, drive and determination to put on a piece of theatre; that it should be, as this production was, so well executed and funny, only complicates the conundrum.

The play has at its heart an orphaned crippled boy named Billy (Eugene Oh) who stares at cows all day to avoid the crushing insulation his two nagging foster parents impose on him. When he hears from village gossip and part-time blackmailer Johnnypateen (an incongruously dashing Pip Willett) that an American film crew are shooting on a nearby island he forges a letter from his doctor saying he is dying of TB in order to emotionally bribe local hard-man fisherman BabbyBobby (Brent Cooper) to take him to the other island such that he might try to win favour with the Americans and convince them to let him try out for a part in a film. He is invited for a screen test, and off he goes to Hollywood leaving the island in a state of shock, believing him dead. Ultimately he returns home a suicidal failure, sick with consumption (for real this time) and still lovesick for the local bully Helen (Tara Lee).

Although sub plots of disease, child abuse, clerical impropriety, alcoholism, and death abound, all is treated as wryly as such matters truly are by the Irish. The focus then was on the script which worked well as the Old Theatre is hardly the place to try and put on technically demanding productions. Comic timing was spot on throughout the cast. Special mention in this regard has to go to Anya Clarkson and Lizzy Fergusson who played the two shopkeeper guardians of Billy, for forming a very droll duo who are pretty much the centre piece of the comic side of the play.

Pip Willett played a wily Johnnypateen who knew exactly how to manipulate everyone except his Mammy (Anya Clarkson again) round to his point of view. Helen was willfully spiteful village girl, as much put upon as viscous I feel. Mr. Cooper played a convincing BabbyBobby, although I was left wondering if his hearty beard was real or not – a doubt resolved when I passed the still hirsute actor on the stairs of Connaught House this morning. Eugene Oh should also be congratulated for physically inhabiting his character and keeping things moving apace.

The production bore many the hallmarks of classic student theatre including cross dressing, actors playing more than one role, and a whole host of dodgy accents. Ultimately the comic aspect was much better executed than the moments of dramatic intensity, and McDonagh’s play would probably benefit from some cuts as it drags on a little as though it was an idea for a short work writ large. However, the tight acting and comedy carried the night. Well done Drama Society!

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