Theatre in Wales

Commentary and extended critical writing on theatre, dance and performance in Wales

The London International Mime Festival

The Overcoat – Canstage at the Barbican Centre
Any designer or clothes fetishist would relate to this sad tale of a man who, ridiculed for his tatty attire, blows all his savings on a bespoke, professional-looking overcoat, momentarily commanding a level of respect from his peers and colleagues never previously attained, before he loses it to a thieving hooker during a drunken evening. Unfortunately the story actually ends there with the coat relegated to the stolen goods underworld, never to be retrieved. This might have been quite refreshing for a family friendly show had it not been for the protagonist’s speedy and unconvincing descent into ‘madness’ (which seemed a bit too smooth given the necessarily overly-theatrical nature of the rest of the piece) and an olde-wolde lunatic asylum. There seems to be a real trend amongst circus-types for what I like to call ‘mental patient chic’. Perhaps it is the fetish connotations of the straightjacket. Despite appearances the show was quite mainstream and I cringed as the schmaltz of hand-sewing needle-jerks were played out exactly in time with the music. This was overdone because it extended to almost every single movement in the piece being choreographed too precisely to the music, holding up the action in places. Overall the piece was enjoyable and lightly entertaining, but lacked the sort of amazing feats of skill that you might expect in a work of world-class physical theatre.

‘I’m a Fool To Want You’ – Told By An Idiot at Battersea Arts Centre is a smaller scale production, born from improvisation, as is all of Told By An Idiot’s work. This time the improvisation involved collaboration with jazz musicians Zoe Rahman and Mark Crown, adding an extra challenge to the creative team to improvise more truthfully, in the spirit of jazz. Taking the life and work of French poet, jazz musician and author of cult novel ‘I Spit On Your Graves’ Boris Vian as inspiration, the show unravels the moment he died at a screening of the film adaptation of his book, from a heart attack apparently brought on by his anger at the misinterpretation of his work and violation of his creative integrity. Although ‘I’m a Fool To Want You’ includes improvised speech, its intelligent synergy of physicality, visual storytelling and sound more than justifies its place in the Mime Festival programme. Performers Hayley Carmichael and Stephen Harper are a versatile, touching, elegant, hilarious, and anarchic (particularly with a tennis ball on a fishing rod!) pairing, and have made this, with director Paul Hunter, a very exciting piece of theatre. Even the set design is involved in their collaborative working process; nothing superfluous yet still beautiful, and it works very much with the performers, enhancing their horizontal, diagonal and vertical movements. The musicians are engaging and involved right through the show, not mere accompaniment, and take improvisational risks with each performance, keeping it fresh every time, and playing more than just the keys of the piano for a greater range of expressive sounds. The action cuts between created scenes of Vian’s story and imagined scenes from the film that devastated him, and allows him the opportunity to exact changes to the offending film in unexpected, delightful, and often side-splittingly funny ways. Told By An Idiot are an intelligent, entertaining, unpretentious company and ‘I’m a Fool to Want You’ is another fantastic credit. The run continues for a few more weeks at Battersea Arts Centre and I heartily recommend everyone to go and see i

author:zoe hewett

original source:
29 January 2004


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