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Hans was Heiri, Barbican Theatre, London


Hans was Heiri is built around a rotating house. The set looks like a dolls’ house, a square of four rooms with simple furniture. Then it starts to spin. The performers stay upright as the floor tilts under them, until gravity sends them tumbling from room to room.

Appearing as part of the London International Mime Festival, the show was created by choreographer Martin Zimmermann and composer Dimitri de Perrot, both festival regulars. In Hans was Heiri they put six acrobat-performers through a series of transformations and tangles. They switch costumes, quarrel, teach yoga classes and hide in boxes.

The set design and acrobatics are impressive, but performances can be irritatingly winsome. Zimmermann himself is one of the worst offenders. He’s a skilled acrobat, holding precarious balances and falling with split-second timing, but he telegraphs his effects. Similarly, contortionist Methinee Wongtrakoon can tie herself in knots, but keeps up an exasperating stream of little giggles, gurning in wide-eyed wonder.

The performers switch personalities, arguing with each other or pursuing their own obsessions. These character scenes go on too long, milking the jokes, though the material is inventive.

Hans was Heiri is strongest when it stops trying so hard to be wacky. The most deadpan artists are the most impressive. Mélissa Von Vépy, a wonderfully serene aerialist, floats around the house. She hangs from her knees from the set, pulled into a great circle as it turns, casually picking up a fellow performer as she goes.

Dimitri de Perrot mixes the soundtrack live on stage. The show starts with audience chatter, the real conversations in the auditorium blending into the recorded sound of the same thing. Then Perrot starts chopping and looping it, turning it into rhythms that get the show moving.

The house brings out the best in everybody, as they dodge falling furniture or stay insistently seated on chairs that have turned upside down. Leaning into the slope, they hold themselves at impossible angles. A man leaning against a wall finds himself lying down, then sliding across a tilting floor to bump his head on what used to be the ceiling. Another runs clings to the outside of the house, running to stay on top as it picks up speed.

Until 26 January. Box office 0844 848 5226. London International Mime Festival runs until 27 January; www.mimelondon.com