Preview: London International Mime Festival

Plexus Polaire

Plexus Polaire - Credit: Archant

Cutting edge puppetry, circus, juggling and live art will be showcased at the inernational event which runs at various venues including the Barbican, Sadlers Wells, Shoreditch Town Hall, and Jacksons Lane

Plexus Polaire

Plexus Polaire - Credit: Archant

Cutting edge puppetry, circus, juggling and live art will be showcased at the annual London Mime Festival this month.

The inernational event runs at various venues including the Barbican, Sadlers Wells, Shoreditch Town Hall, and Jacksons Lane until Feb 3.

Barely Methodical Troupe, whose 2014 debut Bromance scooped numerous awards, kick off the festival with their latest acrobatic spectacular: Shift at Platform Theatre in King’s Cross.

Highgate-based troupe member Louis Gift said it was commissioned for a spiegeltent and was a “super-fun challenge to create a show in the round.

Plexus Polaire

Plexus Polaire - Credit: Archant

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“The closer you are to the audience, the nicer it is for them, the more it becomes a two way street of a performance,” he says.

Renowned for their stunning cyr wheel work, the troupe have created a less narrative based show this time.

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“This is more movement driven, it’s more about the flow,” says Gift, who is the son of Fine Young Cannibals singer Roland.

“We’ve worked with an amazing break dancer called Elihu Vazquez and put a lot of his movement into it. Our characters start off in one place, have our own journey and end up together. It’s about the growth. We start less in control and by the end have mastered our relationship.”

If Bromance focused on the quirks and limits of male friendship, Shift features female Swedish acrobat Esmerelda Nikojajeff in the quartet.

“She is incredibly strong and we make use of that strength; she’s five foot three and I am six foot three, but I stand on her shoulders in the show,” says Gift who attended Camden School for Girls then the National Centre for Circus Arts in Hoxton after coming to the artform through an early passion for parcours.

He agrees it’s less common to see circus performers of his height - unless they are catching or supporting others. But he’s as much involved in the flips, acrobatics, hand to hand, and steel wheel as the rest of the cast, not to mention being pinged around the stage with giant elastic physiotherapy bands.

“Circus is such a mish mash of different skills and that takes different kinds of bodies. With something cassical like ballet, you look for uniformity, but circus deals with imperfections.

Green ginger Intronauts

Green ginger Intronauts - Credit: Archant

“The show is a lot of fun visually. At the same time we smash out some banging stuff. It has to be impressive and fun for the audience, that’s what cirucs is, we want to make them go ‘Wow,’ and if we can inspire some youngsters to pick up circus along the way that’s great.”

Gift enjoys the collaborative nature of circus-making, and despite a gruelling 10 hour a day, five day week training regime, his ambition is to “Keep expanding the shows, keep working with new people from different countries, keep it fresh. If it ever gets boring we will stop.”

The festival showcases work from Belgium, Finland, France, New Zealand, Norway and Spain, but Green Ginger who bring Intronauts to Jacksons Lane are homegrown puppetry experts.

Chris Pirie describes the show as a surreal journey into the near future where mini human workers in submarines are paid as personal cleaners to carry out essential maintenance on bodies.

Barely Methodical Troupe picture Chris Nash

Barely Methodical Troupe picture Chris Nash - Credit: Archant

“As a kid I read The Beezer and there was a strip called Numbskulls about a boy with white coated scientists living in his head and operating him from inside. I thought that was an amazing idea and a fun way to use our skills in puppetry and visual theatre.”

It’s also an “homage” to sci-fi fantasies Inner Space (1987) and Fantastic Voyaage (1966) which feature perilous journeys inside the human body.

“Those movies look shonky now but won Oscars at the time for special effects,” he says.

“Ours is a retro future where the technology is a bit kronky, like the Pacman era when video games graphics weren’t slick.”

Plexus Polaire

Plexus Polaire - Credit: Archant

Fascinated by people who clean up hazardous waste, Green Ginger’s research included a visit to a nuclear power station. Their show also addresses concerns about advancing technology in daily life and healthcare.

“There’s a generation happy to have implants under their fingernails to swipe into work. We want our kids to use those tools but also to give them boundaries and warn them there are dangers to technology,” adds Pirie. Although Intronauts is “probably the wordiest show in the mime festival” it’s primarily a visual theatre piece with projections and physical theatre.

It’s 40 years since the company pioneered street theatre and adult puppetry and Pirie has seen the artform change from burying ‘the P word,’ in festival programmes to touring Europe with accessible work pitched at “childish adults and grown up kids.”.

“In the ‘90s there was this fear of puppetry. But The Lion King and War Horse have massively popularised it and now it’s woven into mainstream theatre language.” Puppetry he says, is ideal when a solo performer wants to people their work with multiple characters “just like the old Punch and Judy shows.” By its nature it encourages surreal storytelling and. as in their work, can ape cinematic techniques.

“The joy is you can break all those physical limits that an actor tied to gravity, time and space cannot do. If a character needs to float, enlarge, or disappear it’s an effective stage tool. When it’s done well, you see the puppeteers, the enginering, and then forget they are there. Audiences are happy to suspend disbelief and be taken on a flight of fantasy by story tellers. It gives us space to be bold and experimental with the way we tell a story, taking them to places it would otherwise be hard to do.”

The festival runs until February 3 and inclues workshops talks and discussions, other highlights include Gandini Juggling at Sadlers Wells, Gecko at the Barbican; Thick & Tight at the Lilian Baylis Studio; Stan’s Cafe at Jacksons Lane. Theatre Re premieres its latest creation, Birth, at Shoreditch Town Hall. and Plexus Polaire at The Barbican.

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