London International Mime Festival will have you lost for words
PUBLISHED: 08:00 11 January 2017
The festival stages shows at Sadler’s Wells, Shoreditch Town Hall, the Barbican and Jackson’s Lane
What could be a better topic for mime than a man who has lost his power to recall language?
Theatre Re’s The Nature of Forgetting (Shoreditch Town Hall January 18-20) is one of 17 shows in this year’s London International Mime Festival which features the best of visual, non verbal performance from across Europe.
Theatre Re worked with UCL behavioural neuroscience Professor Kate Jeffery and Haringey dementia sufferers to create a piece which conveys the fractured thought processes of a man suffering from the illness.
Interviewing people in care homes, the Haringey Old People’s Forum and clients of the Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Café in Hornsey director Guillaume Pige says they wanted to distinguish between forgetting and dementia in the haunting tale of Tom who dresses for his birthday party, assailed by vanishing memories of friendship and love.
“We made the choice to have our main character 55. He is living with early onset dementia which is a disease that should not be confused with older people who have trouble remembering,” says Pige.
Theatre Re created their piece after hearing from Jeffery how memory works. “It’s located in the hippocampus and rather than being a library where you can pick out a book, it’s run more like a workshop, a place where things are being constructed. The first thing that is constructed is location. So thinking about your first kiss the first thing you remember is where it happened. As a visual theatre company it was exciting to find out that you can deconstruct memory in a very physical way.”
The piece also plays with the notion that while short term memory can disappear, sufferers often retain vivid recall of childhood events.
“Everything else has disappeared but for a moment that memory of themselves at eight is more vivid than the present.”
The show tries to physically portray Tom’s struggle for language. “It’s fascinating to notice the problem to find words, the idea that some words are not accessible any more. We started making a show about the mechanism of memory but that’s not where we finished - it’s something much larger and deeper. What is left when memory is gone?”
Founded in 2009, Theatre Re has previously interviewed gambling addicts from Tottenham for The Gambler, and people blind from birth for their show Blind Man’s Song. Pige says when forming the company the prefix re- was a starting point.
“Re-veal re-invent that is what we do. We don’t invent new things but let new life into things that already exist.
“We are making shows for everyone. We want them to be entertaining but also thought provoking. We want audiences to see the world differently. It turns out that words are not necessary to express what we want to say. We explore how we can use the body to express it.”
Pige who is originally from Lyon and now lives in Haringey, calls the festival the “best most important visual theatre festival in the world”.
“The word mime has a bad reputation everyone imagines a very boring white faced man replacing words with silly gestures, but it’s about making a portrait of something with something else. Some will use their body, some object manipulation, music and sound but what they all have in common is non traditional ways of telling a story. Sometimes they don’t even tell a story; the art is in the visuals and aesthetic.”
Barcelona-born Leandre Ribera uses clowning in Nothing to Say, one of three LIMF shows at Jackson’s Lane in Highgate.
It is set in an enchanted house where magic reigns, ghosts occupy the wardrobe, socks fly, mirrors tease you and silent music plays.
Despite being hailed one of Europe’s greatest mime clown’s Ribera is uncomfortable with the C-word.
“I have been doing clowning for 30 years and even now I still find it hard to use the word. I was inspired by the great clowns like Chaplin. Clowns have a mystery to them I think. The humour or poetry they bring is a mystery that draws me into an unknown world which I love. They scare me though, because to me as a spectator they make this hole on the stage. Something brilliant, something unknown. I don’t know what it is.”
Ribera sees Nothing To Say as a continuum of work on his clown alter ego.
“It’s been like the journey of this character for 30 years. I wanted an intimate situation, not forcing the humour. To put him inside a house to show how this character sees the world and reacts to things. Not to make people laugh but to make them work, The language I choose or it chooses me is non verbal. I feel comfortable I have been developing my own language for many years. I love non verbal, it’s more open and simple. The audience put their own words.”
He feels lucky that he’s been allowed to do his job for so long. “I try to build a world of poetry where everything is possible and everything is accepted, like magic. To build this primitive place in the eyes of the audience where they are still surprised, not like a child and but seeing things fresh and new.”
At various venues including Sadler’s Well’s Lilian Baylis Studio and the Barbican until February 4.