Various venues, London
January, 2002

For some years now, the London International Mime Festival has made a virtue out of the effective meaninglessness of the central element of its name.  Indeed, on the front of this year's programme brochure, the logo sits above the words "MIME CLOWN VISUAL THEATRE" (punctuation available on request, presumably) and the festival's emblem is a M surmounted by a red sphere suggestive of a clown's nose.

Events over the next fortnight at various venues include the clowning of former Perrier award nominee Avner the Eccentric, the cosmopolitan surrealism of Spymonkey's Edinburgh Fringe hit Cooped, and Germany's Fabrik company with a physical evocation of the Berlin Wall era and the aftermath of its removal. Lightwork's London/My Lover mixes physical performance with video work, Maybellene and Friends put live human heads atop rod-puppets and lip-sync to classic camp musical numbers, and no-one is offering any firm commitments as to what may be shown in work-in-progress previews from Theatre O, Complicité's Marcello Magni and bizarros without portfolio Ridiculusmus.

The opening event, Shy Shining Walls by Costa Rican company Diquis Tiquis at the Purcell Room, is described on its programme flyer as "a finely judged balancing act between dance, theatre, mime and something hitherto unknown in the realms of harlequinesque mysticism." (I just had to share that quotation.) I would personally call it a rather less problematic balancing act between dance and more dance. Sandra Trejos and Alejandro Tossatti's quintet of pieces to musical backings involve precise movements at a deliberate pace, which do not portray events and emotions directly but rather evoke them impressionistically. Broad and embracing though the terms "mime" and "theatre" may often be, to me this presentation remains outside them.

The various pieces suggest relationships of playfulness, yearning, domination as between man and woman. Tossatti uses his own skinnier frame and elastic face to engage in more grotesquerie than the more graceful Trejos. However, of the five pieces, only one turns out to bear a title which at all resounds with the possible meanings I saw in the performers' movements: the first, "Side By Side", and that solely because the two chairs which are the show's only props were placed, er, side by side. "Blind Dance" is, perhaps paradoxically, the most physically energetic of the pieces; in "The Duel", far from confronting each other, the two figures seem less connected than ever. Of course, such events are always transactions, with the audience divining or even supplying detailed meaning; however, even knowing this, one occasionally emerges with the feeling that one has missed something. This was such an occasion.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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