Thursday January 22 1998
hands and
tragic clowns

When Derevo's The Red
played in a midnight
slot on last year's
Edinburgh Fringe,

audiences were divided between those
who simply did not get it and those
who got it in spades. On their
presentation of the same show last
week at the Purcell Room as one of the
opening pieces at this year's London
International Mime Festival, I am
unconvinced that there is much to get.

After a sequence of deliberately
crappy post-apocalyptic circus (riding
a non-existent trapeze, failing to bend
an iron bar, etc. ), the pasty-faced
Russian quintet move into a series of
wordless and dimly lit episodes
portraying evolution, gestation, love,
power... the usual Human Condition
preoccupations. The odd moment of
serenity or deep emotion leaps out, but
for the most part neither the content
nor the presentation is particularly
new or exciting. At one point, one of
the clowns came into the audience and
literally forced me to kick ass -
probably the most refreshingly direct
bit of criticism I have ever done.

Andrew Dawson's and Jozef
Houben's CVs include stage work with
Mime Theatre Productions, Theatre de
Complicate, The Right Size and
Wallace and Gromit. Their joint show,
Quatre Mains, presented for three
nights at the ICA, was one of those
so-simple-it's-brilliant strokes of
genius. The title was entirely accurate:
the performers were not Dawson and
Houben, but their four hands (and
occasionally their arms), on a raked
tabletop. Their palms and digits
engaged in ballet, in Esther Williams
choreography, in creating a menagerie
on land and under water, and even in
enacting an entire 1950s horror movie
about giant spiders (probably).

Throughout all this action, the only
speech was the occasional
incomprehensible syllable of vocalise
on the taped soundtrack. They also
performed a kind of percussion duel,
during which epiphany struck: this
was the theatrical equivalent of Steve
Reich's clapping music - performance
stripped down to the ultimate
simplicity, and continuing to generate
strong, direct emotions and laughter
in a mode of breathtaking intimacy.

The festival's main show,
however, is Don't Laugh It's
My Life
' by the Told By An
Idiot company (at BAC until
February 1). Since the company's first
show in 1993, performers Hayley
Carmichael and Paul Hunter and
director John Wright have expertly
mined the ferule seam of what could
be called tragic clowning. They have
added another three performers for
this free adaptation of Moliere's
Tartuffe, in which the Tatter family is
turned upside down by the anival of a
religiose parasite.

Wright and the company work gags
out of a variety of cheesy pop
standards, reanimate a clutch of
antique verbal and physical gags and
bring a delightfully skewed
perspective to (he proceedings, They
are adept at turning from laughter to
poignancy, and the second act not only
includes the death of Gran - at once
comical and disturbingly grisly - hut
eschews the deus ex machina
resolution which tacks an implausibly
happy ending onto the original play;
here, the family's sudden reversal of
fortune is lefl shockingly to stick,

Wright, one of the former mainstays
of Trestle Theatre Company, puts
three of his characters into half-masks;
it is no coincidence that those who
most directly engage our emotions are
unmasked, most notably
long-suffering wife and mother
Georgia as played by Carmichael.

Ian Shuttleworth
The London International Mime
Festival continues until January 25.

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