THERE are 16 productions on the programme of this year’s London International Mime Festival, but co-founder Joseph Seelig warns any audiences looking forward to beret-clad Bip the Clown impersonators trying to escape from invisible boxes will be disappointed.
“You won’t see anyone with a white face and stripy T-shirt climbing invisible stairs,” he says. “What you will see is thrilling physical and visual theatre with a minimum of language.”
After more than 40 years at the helm of one of the world’s premier international mime showcases, Joseph is used to having to dispel the common misconceptions around what he calls its “historic title” versus its modern range of disciplines.
But perhaps not for much longer. What started in 1977 as a handful of British performers in one small fringe theatre – The Cockpit in Marylebone – now attracts acts from around 17 companies from all over the world, performing in nine venues across London, the Barbican among them.
“Our audience grows each year – we average over 85% at the box office,” Joseph says. “Our last audience survey told us that theatre-goers are looking for ‘something different’, something out of the ordinary, and that’s certainly what they get.”
Here are four acts to see at the Barbican over the coming weeks:
Bêtes de Foire / Petit Théâtre de Gestes
The Pit is transformed into a miniature circus at the hands of French artists Elsa De Witte and Laurent Cabrol, who play their parts of a seamstress and performer surrounded by a cast of mechanical tightrope walkers and acrobats. The duo performed with French street theatre and travelling companies before founding their own Bêtes de foire, drawing inspiration from the likes of Tadeusz Kantor and Alexander Calder to combine artistry, puppetry and object theatre into a feel good show full of surprise and off-beat humour.
Until 20 January
L’insolite Mécanique / Lift Off (Je Brasse de L’air)
As a young girl, Magali Rousseau always dreamed of taking flight. In Lift Off, it becomes a reality with the help of a series of exquisite mechanical structures designed to help her soar. The French performance artist uses machine and movement to deliver a gravity-defying display heightened by the live clarinet playing of musician and collaborator Stéphane Diskus. Together they tell a tale of how trying to fly becomes an act of resistance.
23 to 27 January
Peeping Tom / Mother (Moeder)
The second volume of a trilogy that opened with Vader (Father) in 2014 and will close with Kind (Child) in 2019, Mother is a series of disturbing reflections on what it means to be a woman, a mother and a parent. The last time Belgian company Peeping Tom took to the Barbican stage in 2015 with the weird and wonderful trailer park world of 32 Rue Vandenbranden, they went home with an Olivier Award for Best New Dance Performance. Mother, Joseph promises, is even better: “highly physical theatre… a mix of extreme dance and live art”.
24 to 27 January
Toneelhuis/Fc Bergman: 300 el x 50 el x 30 el
In this innovative blend of film and theatre, a camera crew follows the inhabitants of tiny houses in a village gripped by fear of an impending flood. Scenes swing from mundane or absurd to intimate and sinister, all the while turning the audience from passive viewer to voyeur. “It’s full of powerful, unusual and unconventional images,” Joseph says. “There’s also lots of wit and humour, and great music from Vivaldi to Nina Simone – you’ll never have seen anything like it.”
31 January to 3 February