Ristorante Immortale, Purcell Room, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

The actors of the Berlin troupe Familie Floez wear masks; solemn moulded faces with blank eyes, slack mouths, big noses. The surprise, and the comedy, is in the way those unchanging expressions look downcast, smug, appalled - transformed by the body language going on below them.

Familie Floez have a following in Britain, after performances in London and Edinburgh. The venue was sold out for their return for the London International Mime Festival.

In Ristorante Immortale, directed by Michael Vogel, the cast play the hyperactive staff of a restaurant without customers. The head waiter grandly checks the cook's menus, but lacks the authority to change them. All is done without words: the head waiter raps on the serving hatch, bossily or tentatively; the cook slams it and gets back to playing the accordion.

There's another power struggle among the three waiters. The youngest sleeks his hair and uses everything from a serving dish to a hand-bell to check his reflection. The oldest would rather go out to feed the birds. After jostling each other, they gang up on the last and scruffiest waiter, who tries very hard to fit in.

All these squabbles are highly patterned. Flicking each other with towels, the waiters build up a snapping comic rhythm, brought up short by the head waiter. They go on sniping at each other behind his back.

The characters are always getting carried away, then caught. The waiters start to pay more attention to the click of crockery than to the job of cleaning it. One clinks two plates together, like castanets, setting off a frantic flamenco number.

All the waiters are confronted by their own doubles: smarter, more optimistic versions of themselves, from the days when they truly believed that customers might show up. In the meantime, they're sidetracked into daydreams. Left to deal with the washing, the scruffy waiter conjures a basket boat with laundry sails: the cook starts to play "La Mer", and the other waiters shake blue tablecloths into a sea.

This is more whimsical than the china castanets. It doesn't spring so naturally from the action, but there are nice details. When the head waiter walks in, the scruffy waiter paddles his imaginary boat faster, trying to escape.

There are some repetitions, some meandering, but the show keeps its focus: rhythms and characters are tightly established.