Bodies of evidence

Seeing is believing at London's 27th International Mime Festival
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The Independent Culture

When most people hear the word "mime", they tend to think of somebody with a painted face, pretending they are in a box, but - as those people who have attended the London International Mime Festival during the past 26 years will contest - there is a lot more to this theatrical art.

The festival returns on 15 January, and the directors, Joseph Seelig and Helen Lannaghan, are hoping to draw a good crowd. "Despite what people think, mime is a popular art form - people like to see it," Seelig says. "Classic mime makes up only a small part of the repertoire. When people think of mime, they usually think of Marcel Marceau, but it is really a festival of visual theatre. We are showing a selection of innovative shows, which are entirely dependent on making their impact through visual means, and that embraces all sorts of performance styles, from circus arts to puppetry, animation, clown theatre and occasionally mime.

"Some people think it is strange, and, indeed, we do have some unusual acts, but I think we are promoting what will be a mainstream art form in 10 years' time."

Although there are many mime festivals throughout Europe, the London festival is the longest-established of its kind. Many notable British acts will be taking part, including the puppeteer Stephen Mottram, Momentum, Gecko and the award-winning Company FZ, though it also showcases new talent. Among the genre's top performers making a welcome return is Nola Rae, who appeared in the first festival.

"One of the more unusual acts is the Russian group Akhe," Seelig says. "Their show is exciting and unpredictable. They won the Critics' prize at the 2004 Mimos Festival in Périgueux, France."

Three solo acts to appear this year, all graduates of the French circus schools, are Jean-Baptiste André, a hand-balancing virtuoso; Mathurin Bolze, a trampoline act; and Camille Boitel, whose work is about object-manipulation. "I think that the world of French circus training is absolutely amazing," Seelig says. "These three acts show us what you can do with a circus-school education - you don't have to become Coco the Clown."

Also performing is El Tricicle, a household name in its native Spain. The group performs a series of situation sketches centred around a chair. "They are one of the acts who provide straight-up entertainment," Seelig says. "They are intensely funny. Although they haven't travelled much, we had them at the festival about 10 years ago. They were very popular."

The festival includes 18 acts in various venues around London, as well as talks and workshops. "It is just about the most exciting, off-the-wall, wacky, innovative theatre you will ever see," Seelig says. It seems there will be something for everybody, then.

London International Mime Festival, South Bank Centre, ICA, Laban, BAC, Circus Space and Institut Français, 15 to 30 January (