Review: Of mime and men

FRINGE ROUND-UP London International Mime Festival By Adrian Turpin

You could say that Le Marotoscope (BAC) was the most intimate, most mysterious, most hyped show in the London International Mime Festival. Or you could say it was the theatrical equivalent of a trip to the dentist: it even had a waiting room. I'm sure, like The Mousetrap, you're not meant to say what happens, but here goes anyway: first you go into an ante-chamber with four other people and are served a buffet meal. Then, one by one, you are ushered into an inner sanctum for a 300-second individual performance by the French puppeteer Ezechial Garcia- Romeu.

You sit on a chair in front of a glass-fronted wooden cabinet a bit like a confessional box. A light comes on and you see some sand with something poking out of it. Slowly a puppet emerges, a chiselled ivory-coloured figure resembling the famous pictures of Dante. He writes in a book balanced on a lectern. Then he gets frustrated and stops. Then he writes again. Then a big podgy 20th-century hand comes down from above, points a finger, and appears to scribble something indecipherable in the sand. And then it starts burying Dante, or Ozymandias, or whoever he is.

The most embarrassing bit of the whole business is when you return to the waiting room, where you either a) sit in embarrassed British silence, or b) discuss intensely what it all means, which is enough to make anyone feel inadequate. If you ask me, it's a critique of the National Lottery.

In Strokehauling (BAC), produced by the Irish clowning company Barabbas, Mike Murphy gives a performance as Liam, humble hero and clerk in Dwyer's drapery store, that's four parts magic to one part tedium. But then you suspect that's probably about the same ratio that exists in Liam's life. It's a piece that deals with (to steal the title of Joseph Connor's cult book) the secret life of the Irish male.

Liam's day job seems to involve, almost entirely, selling school ties, getting change from Monica's yarn shop down the road, and taking phone calls from the mysterious Caroline. His limited conversation bears some likeness to Mrs Doyle, the tea-lady in Channel 4's Father Ted: I will, I will, I will. You will, you will, you will. Outside work, in his imagination, Liam is one of the Fianna, the mythical band of Irish warrior heroes. When we first see him he's going for a run, ducking and weaving around real and imagined obstacles, occasionally pretending to be hurling.

His running goes on so long, it almost dares the audience to be bored, provoking laughs that are born out of nothing more than nervousness. But you soon warm to the fanatical dedication of this strange creature, with his boxing shorts, googly eyes and improbably good nature.

The middle section, in which Liam negotiates his way around the invisible shop-fittings is a wonderful piece of movement-based theatre. Only in the final part does the tension begin to wane, as Liam's superhero exploits (for example, launching a spear then running after it to catch it) become less precise and more manic: not so much the mythical Fionn MacCunhail as Hong Kong Fooey, Seventies cartoon hero and number one superguy.

I presumed Jeremy Robbins' Primary Love (BAC) was about narcissism and gay men, not least because of one of the accompanying slides, which showed a little boy combing his hair in a mirror with the words "narcissus" scrawled below and a soundtrack that ran the gamut from Doris Day to Scott Walker via Shirley Bassey. As this short work shows, though, there's a thin line between a piece about narcissism and a piece of narcissism.

Robbins has an extraordinary body, like a pop-up anatomy text book. Indeed, if you had a body like that you probably would be quite narcissistic, and he does do some extraordinarily athletic things with it, the like of which you probably won't have seen since the Atlanta Olympics.

In Slippery When Wet, the second part of a double-bill, Robbins splishes and sploshes in and around a bath to the strains of The Weather Girls' "It's Raining Men", wearing what looks like a Speedo swimsuit, which he eventually divests to the whooping cheers of a large part of the audience. Mime? One can only assume the Chippendales had a prior engagement.

The London International Mime Festival continues to 26 Jan

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