Mime Festival review: ‘Silence seldom speaks so clearly’

Now in its 40th year, the London International Mime Festival brings together the best contemporary visual theatre from around the world.

Gifted mimes are magicians. They can pull staircases out of thin air and collapse time. They fold distance into their pocket and share their thoughts without words. The greatest mimes raise a laugh simply by hesitating before they move.

Straight from the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris as the opening event in the London International Mime Festival, Marcel invites us to accompany a man as he tries to renew a certificate. Who he is or what it documents are irrelevant. Nothing matters but his determination to pass the tests and prove that he still qualifies for certification.

With Marcello Magni as the man and Jos Houben in a supporting role as his examiner, the situation reveals the doubts and physical limitations that come with age and the emotional understanding that blooms from friendship. When we recognize ourselves in the candidate’s fear and gumption, the subtle art of clowning soars to a level of communication that uncovers timeless truths.

Avoiding the trend towards verbal comedy, these mesmerising artists have focused increasingly on the art of the gag, refining their ability to spin a small physical event into a web of behavior that provokes a cumulative effect as it develops.

The children watching Marcel responded to the men instantly and audibly, ignoring the occasional Italian words; the adults listened with their hearts and eyes to catch every nuance of their expressive language. Silence seldom speaks so clearly.

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At the opposite extreme of physicality, the British troupe Ockham’s Razor has created Tipping Point, an acrobatic display of muscular power, split-second timing and trust. Trained in circus techniques, the cast’s five members use only their bodies and lengths of steel pipe resembling scaffolding poles to show their skill.

For 70 minutes they walk on, clamber up, hang from, dodge between the poles. Cantilevered meticulously, the performers counterbalance one another on the floor and mid-air. Upside down, roughly 20 feet above the ground, one clings to a suspended pole with his legs while another, also upside down, swings from the trapeze of his arms.

Leaving illusion to others, they draw art from brute strength and courage.

Ockham’s Razor remains at the Platform Theatre, Central Saint Martins, until 23 January.

The Festival continues, with events at six other locations, through 6 February. See www.mimelondon.com for details.