Dance: Buchner gets the silent treatment

London International Mime Festival

ENB: 'Cinderella' Coliseum, WC2

Of all the ways to re-interpret a classic play, doing without the text would seem to offer the ultimate freedom. But Jozef Nadj's wordless Woyzeck, which opened the 21st , goes one further and chucks out the plot as well.

It ought to have helped to know Buchner's harrowing play, written just before the 24-year-old author succumbed to typhoid fever in 1837. But Nadj's adaptation, though powerfully reminiscent of the play's moods and themes, contrives to avoid any suggestion of narrative. Ten minutes in, we're still unsure which of the gruesome, clay-smeared figures on stage is Woyzeck. The jealous murder of Marie - which, in the play, is the culmination of all Woyzeck's degrading experiences as a poor military barber and medical guinea pig - is never shown at all.

Nadj, a Hungarian who trained with Marcel Marceau, presents the major themes of the play through a build-up of physical detail, like fragments of memory re-ordered in a dream. The numbing claustrophobia of Woyzeck's life is conveyed by the stage itself - a shoebox in which the eight characters bump and nudge and assault each other for lack of space.

The impression is of a lunatic hell-hole in which obscure and possibly obscene experiments are carried out. The inmates are lumpen, half-made puppets worked by violent unseen powers. Messy and ultimately futile tasks obsess them: piecing together broken eggs, modelling figures in wet clay then squidging them and starting again; or competing to crush apples in a show of manual strength.

A desperate humour fights to redress the morbid sense of decay. The Woyzeck figure, played by Nadj, is a bizarrely amiable Monsieur Hulot with long gangly fingers and a flamboyant haircutting style which spatters wet muck as he snips. His famous diet of peas makes its effects felt when he turns to the wall to pee, spraying a bullet-like shower across the floor.

The most discomfiting laugh is the one Woyzeck gets when he sticks a knife in his own belly and skewers out the liver, which he proceeds to eat with curiosity (it makes a change from peas). Dehumanising his anti- hero to a point beyond absurdity, Nadj underpins the political thrust of Buchner's play. It forces us to consider what it is to be at the mercy of circumstance, and slave to a rotten system. I don't pretend I wasn't baffled by some of these images, but they continue to prey on the mind.

A more light-hearted application of physical skills is revealed by the double act BP Zoom, which followed later in the Festival. Mr B is American Bernie Collins, in the persona of a French Basil Fawlty. His stooge, Mr P, is Frenchman Philippe Martz, an immaculate but myopic Evelyn Waugh whose genteel playing of the spoons, to accompany an American call-and- response song, was one of the funniest things I have ever seen.

The chief fascination of this pair, beyond the inspired articulacy of their body language, is how they limit themselves to very few gags and milk them to the nth degree. Their opening trademark - the two of them squeezed into a Fiat 500, which sports egregiously wayward windscreen wipers - goes on so long you think that might be all there is. But there follows an inspired fantasia on playing the spoons (Mr P's the virtuoso here), and a long-extended number involving a microphone cable, which climaxes in Mr P getting his shoelace tied into the wiring and plucking the overstretched mike cord to perform a wild cover of "Fever". Rare exponents of the true spirit of vaudeville, BP Zoom's ability to provide an hour's worth of gentle hysterics makes them worth two weeks on pure oxygen at a health farm.

English National Ballet could have done with a shot of that laughing gas in their Cinderella, which rounded off their season at the Coliseum last week. Michael Corder's choreography strives for humour but misses by a mile. And there's nothing more depressing than feeling sorry for performers who are trying too hard. The mistake was in writing the two step-sisters as ballerina roles rather than pantomime dames, as Ashton did so winningly in his version for the Royal Ballet. Corder struggles against the odds to create character using extravagant show-off steps, but the pair's flouncing and grimacing cannot disguise the fact that the classical dance is an art of refinement that doesn't readily admit vulgarity.

Unfortunately, the sisters' rival antics are the main source of liveliness in ENB's production. Cinderella herself is a cardboard cut-out. Though Larissa Ponomarenko was as fleet and proficient as you'd expect from a Leningrad-trained soloist, her acting didn't extend beyond looking fragile and sad. Perhaps Sylvie Guillem can one day be persuaded to give a masterclass on how to deliver the kind of full-fleshed, detailed character which makes the most fiendish steps look part and parcel of her thoughts. Her Juliet in MacMillan's ballet, revived for the umpteenth time by the Royal Ballet, sets a benchmark for all time. Who else can make Juliet's first airborne pas de deux with Romeo look as if she's never done it before? Nearly giggling with amazement, you can almost hear her saying "Oh wow!"

Mime Festival: various venues (0171 637 5661), to Sunday 24 January.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing