The London International Mime Festival returns to the Square Mile with an onslaught of outstanding alternative physical performances that you have to witness.

Mime is so much more than a French guy pretending to be stuck in a box.

This is a diverse and internationally flavoured artform which challenges traditional views of modern theatre. Shows can make you laugh for a solid hour, cry all the way home, or simply leave audiences altogether bamboozled.

That’s the brilliance of it all. It will surprise beyond measure. And if you’re ever going to experience professional mime performances then it has to be during the London International Mime Festival, which has been running since 1977.

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Some of these shows will really challenge audiences. Expect performances to be a little left of centre. Photo by Shas Levshin

Most performers do tend to hail from across the pond in France and throughout Europe, however, this year’s line-up is heavy on the local UK groups.

The programme spans the spectrum of contemporary visual performance, bringing live art, physical and circus-theatre, puppetry, movement, and object theatre into the Square Mile throughout most of January. Here are the best spots to see some mime that’s a little out of the box.

Barbican Centre

The Barbican is playing a huge part in this year’s festival, hosting several live performances in The Pit, as well as some mime screenings within their cinemas.

And The Wedding by Gecko is one of the favourites, exploring the tumultuous relationship between the state and the individual while performers dance about in glittering white dresses. They arrive on stage from a chute, emerging as giddy newborns clutching teddy bears before the authorities turn them into business-like beings full of doubt, regret, and a creeping sense of dislocation.

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The Wedding will make you question how society has conditioned you since birth. Photo by Richard Haughton

Meanwhile, Father by Peeping Tom is set to create some mild fear in the minds of viewers as it eerily paints a surreal portrait of ageing. It follows an old man who feels trapped in a care home. As people and objects move around him, we are drawn into hallucinatory moments in which memories make way for something far less lucid.

Dance, song and live music are interwoven into this piece which will make you see ageing in a new light.

Shoreditch Town Hall

The world premiere of Birth is set to really mess with your mind. It is a powerfully sensitive piece of visual theatre about being on a precipice, losing and creating a new life all at once.

Emily is six months pregnant when she reads her grandmother’s journal. Delving into the depths of her family history triggers a shift in her sense of reality, unveiling a legacy of unspoken tragedies, courage and unconditional love. The London-based ensemble, Theatre RE, are known for examining the fragile human condition in a compellingly physical style. Just prepare to question your very own reality.

Sadler’s Wells Theatre

Two big shows are coming to the Sadler’s Wells Theatre. The first is A Night with Thick & Tight, performed by the award-winning duo Thick and Tight.

Using their skills as choreographers, performers and lipsyncers they have created one of the most wondrously bizarre and brazen performances that reveals the yearnings and imperfections of human nature. It’s a whole lot of mime-inspired fun.

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Five jugglers and four dancers challenge each other and exchange their skills with deconstructed rhythms and jubilant patterning in Spring

Then there is Spring which brings a team of jugglers and dancers together for a few nights of visually compelling object performance.

It explores the nature of colour in a kaleidoscope of deconstructed rhythms and patterns, and is billed as a funky and complex mixture of different dancing genres performed to an original, ‘baroque meets techno’ score by leading London composer, Gabriel Prokofiev.

Southbank Centre

The London International Mime Festival is taking over the Purcell Room in the Southbank Centre in 2019, hosting some of Belgium and New Zealand’s top mime performers.

Backup by Focus & Chaliwaté is a comedy about climate change – for once it isn’t all too serious. The brief 30-minute show is incredibly physical (in true mime style) and has some great low-tech wizardry added in for a little extra flare. It calls us to laugh a little (disarming the audience) before compelling us to face what we are really doing to our planet.

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Who knew you could make a comedy about climate change? Photo by Alice Piemme

The Artist by Thomas Monckton and Circo Aereo kicks off with an artist arriving in his paint-splattered studio ready to create a new work. He waits for inspiration. When it finally comes, things don’t proceed quite as he would wish. For this artist, every task is filled with challenges, until chaos is unavoidable.

The Artist follows Thom Monckton’s previous collaboration with Circo Aereo, The Pianist, which has proved a smash hit with some 300 performances around the world.

Platform Theatre

Britain’s young acrobatic group, Barely Methodical Troupe, show off in gravity-defying style with their new show Shift. Four strong and limber performers push against the edges of reality, stretching, challenging and testing the limits of collective physical endeavour.

Watch them tumble, fly and spin in a new show that rolls out power-based acrobatics, B-boying and Cyr wheel, all seasoned with the company’s trademark thoughtfulness and humour. The team scored a huge hit with its debut show Bromance, enjoying a three-week run in New York and worldwide success. Shift looks set to repeat the winning formula.

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