Benet Catty Productions

London Mime Festival (OWE)

Dec 10, 2015

Various venues, London

If there were a vote for the nation's least happy month, January would surely be the favourite. Christmas is over, 12 months of work looms, no holidays for months, dark nights... No wonder more relationships split up in January than any other month. And no wonder that ticket deals for London shows are so plentiful. Keen to see a show that never has any tickets available? January is the time to try.

Perhaps with this in mind, the long-established London International Mime Festival (LIMF) opens its many doors at theatres and performance venues across the capital to present a formidable mixture of physical theatre, dance, experiment and energy to kick off the New Year.

When it was founded in 1977 Abba was constantly at No 1 and Thatcher was heading for No 10. How times have changed. And the festival has changed too. "Mime Festival" is something of a misnomer. It's not a month of people dressed in black pretending to be stuck in boxes. In fact, LIMF is an umbrella for a vast array of different performance approaches and you need no experience of any of them to find something that might inspire you.
Fans of Simon McBurney's theatre company Complicite could do worse than going to Marcel produced by Paris' Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord (the creative home of another theatrical legend Peter Brook). A tender and witty exploration of how to get round ageing, two of Complicités originating performers celebrate the art of physical comedy and the beauty of the gag. One of them, Jos Houben, also presents his solo show, The Art of Laugher, exploring comedy still further.
(NB: this closes on Jan 12th so may be a para to cut, depending on when magazine is published.)

Fans of the bold visual statement may want to visit the Barbican for the enticingly-named Dark Circus (26-30 Jan) in which everyday objects combine with a live electo-acoustic score to create a kind of living cinema. This fusion of theatrical and non-theatrical forms will be familar to those who've followed the work of Complicite or indeed Katie Mitchell but with this Stereoptik, a well regarded French company, these techniques are explored still further and every sequence ends in tragedy - a human canon ball is lost in space, a lion tamer is eaten by his lion. You don't get that kind of thing in the West End.

Also at The Barbican, Australia’s world-famous acrobatic troupe Circa re-imagines Il Ritorno, Monteverdi’s opera (based on the second half of Homer's Odyssey) for The Return (27-31 January). The music may be three hundred years old but the spectacular fusion of show-stopping physicality, live opera and the ancient Greek story of Ulysses is altogether more contemporary. The artistic director of Circa, Yaron Lifschitz, is referred to in the publicity materials as a "visionary". The Return sounds like quite a vision.

If you fancy searching out something a bit further afield, Highgate may be your answer. Jackson's Lane is just opposite the tube station and amongst its guests for the 2016 festival is Al Seed, from Glasgow, with their show Oog (15-17 January) exploring shell shock in the armed forces. Poetic and psychological, the company won this year's Total Theatre Award, usually a good barometer of companies to keep tabs on. Jackson's Lane also hosts something more niche with Aneckxander (22-24 January), Belgian performer Alexander Vantournout's "autobiography of his own body". This is apparently a raw self-portrait in which the naked body (displayed throughout) both exposes itself to, and tries to escape from, the prying eyes of those looking on. You may want to take your blushes with you.

Amongst the many appealing events at the Peacock Theatre the Jakop Ahlbom Company from Holland bring us Horror (25-26 January) - an homage to the scariest of movie genres which should inspire a fair amount of screaming and laughter, following his 2014 spoof of Buster Keaton films.

British aerial theatre company Ockham’s Razor at the Platform Theatre in Kings Cross presents the London premiere of Tipping Point (11-23 January) which fans of Australia's La Soiree (which has just completed another Christmas season on the South Bank) may want to book for. Poles are balanced on fingertips, hung from the roof, lashed, climbed, swung from and walked along, they become forests, crossroads and pendulums, whilst the performers balance, climb and cling. If you like your theatre dangerous this may be a good bet.

Soho Theatre, always at the forefront of the best new writing talent in London, counter-intuitively programmes a play without words, Kite (26 Jan - 6 Feb), which uses dance, puppetry, mime and kites with an original score to celebrate the freedom of playing.

And at Tate Modern - participating in the festival for the first time - a vast-yet-small production in the form of David Espinosa's My Great Work (Mi Gran Obra). Espinosa says "It is what I would do if I had an unlimited budget, the largest theatre in the world, 300 actors on stage, a military orchestra, animals, cars and a helicopter". Without any of these, he creates his “great work” on a white tabletop with the help of miniature figurines, proving - says the publicity - "that you don’t need a stadium-sized production to create significant works of art." Who could argue with that?

January may often feel like a dull, cold month. But it doesn't have to be this year. With the London Mime Festival providing such a range of international work that reshapes how we think about live performance, if you're sitting at home in January with nothing to do then, quite frankly, you have only yourself to blame.

Originally posted: Places & Faces Magazine, January 2016