Preview: 29th London International Mime Festival, various venues, London

The wordless antidote to television
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The Independent Culture

"Our work is quite dark and there's generally a cruel humour to it," explains Gavin Glover, one of the founding members of Faulty Optic, whose 60-minute film Soiled is one of the highlights of this year's London International Mime Festival.

Categorised as puppetry for adults, Soiled tells the tale of a boxing ballerina, a psychic, a sparrow with Tourette's syndrome, and two helpful waiters, taking spectators on a macabre journey that is, by turns, charming, emotional and spiked with wicked humour.

"Our main character is living in a giant bird cage with a tiny bird, who unbeknownst to him has previously killed his lover out of jealousy," says Glover. "It's a love story," he jokes.

"We like placing normal characters into strange and hopeless situations and turning the screw on them. Our theatre is Kafkaesque and Samuel Beckett-style, so Soiled is obviously quite dark and quietly surrealistic."

Faulty Optic and this festival are as far away from Marcel Marceau's antics as you could get. The diverse programme offers a swathe of contemporary visual theatre, with performances by rising stars as well as a host of established names in the fields of circus arts, puppetry, physical theatre and live art.

The season opens with the brilliant young acrobat Jean-Baptiste André and his skewed production Comme en Plein Jour. Other highlights include Josef Houben's The Art of Laughter, Ockham Razor's Arc, a programme of daring aerial theatre, and the peculiar animation theatre of Buchinger's Boot Marionettes' Vestibular Folds. And the Philippe Genty Company makes its first visit to Britain in 15 years.

"Traditional theatre has a lot of words in it, but this festival allows an audience to enter a different world, with a different visual emphasis," says Glover. "We're inundated by TV and radio, and I think the physical and visual work in mime is a bit of a release for people."

13 to 28 January (