Harlekin, Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, London
Thursday 17 January 2013
Harlequin is traditionally an agile comic character, fast and acrobatic. Russian theatre troupe Derevo have no shortage of physical skill, but it’s stretched out to painful slowness.
The three shaven-headed clowns tell tragic-comic stories with such arch emphasis that even the gory bits look mannered.
Founded by lead performer Anton Adassinsky in 1988, Derevo established themselves as darlings of the Edinburgh Fringe, regularly winning awards at the festival. They come to London as part of the London International Mime Festival, performing in the Linbury rather than the often ad hoc venues of Edinburgh.
A padded, false-bearded showman prods the audience as we come in, running around the theatre and speaking to the crowd. The stage is hidden by a curtain, mended in diamond patterns that suggest the patched origins of the traditional harlequin costume. When the show starts, we see dancers moving in shadow, a tutu’d woman in a tall hat and a man with a sword. As they dance, their shadows grow and shrink, looming over each other until he kills her and them himself. It’s cleverly staged, simple and effective.
In front of the curtain, they stage long, yearning scenes. Adassinsky makes eyes at the oblivious Elena Yarovaya. He keeps taking off her hat, making her scream each time. Standing in two window frames, they wave or hold conversations in mime. When one throws something, it reappears in the other’s window – but the timing isn’t quite sharp enough, blurring the joke.
Some of the imagery is gruesome. Adassinsky seems to pull a scarlet pepper out of his own bloody chest; Yarovaya thoughtfully bites into it. We see other pepper-hearts in spotlights, each framed by a crown. Yarovaya returns as a nurse, stitching up Adassinsky’s chest, with much squirting of blood and syringes. I like the moment when Yarovaya realises she’s lost her scissors and has to bite off the thread, but the scene is overextended.
The show touches on the harlequin’s long and varied history, from commedia dell’arte to the Ballets Russes retelling of Petrushka. The references are deft, but Derevo’s own harlequinade doesn’t come to life. The knowing performance style works best in a sequence for a hurdy-gurdyist and his monkey. Adassinsky keeps prodding Yarovaya to turn for the audience; they cut between false smiles for their public, and seething resentment to each other.
Until 19 January. London International Mime Festival continues until 27 January. www.mimelondon.co.uk
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Moscow voted the world's unfriendliest city
- 2 The excuses your boss is most likely to believe when you call in sick
- 3 I'm pansexual – here are the five biggest misconceptions about my sexuality
- 4 More than 11,000 Icelanders offer to house Syrian refugees to help European crisis
- 5 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don’t change Europe’s attitude to refugees, what will?
The real reason Eddie Redmayne was cast as a trans woman in The Danish Girl
JK Rowling announces Harry Potter's son is starting at Hogwarts
Idris Elba is ‘too street’ to play 007, says James Bond author
Loose Women poll asking if rape is 'ever a woman's fault' sparks backlash
Akram Khan: Choreographer says dance is 'as important as maths and being a doctor'
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches, it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don’t change Europe’s attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up