With the The Barbican now on the agency's doorstep, cultural opportunities abound. Shame then that they sent me to to the London International Mime Festival to poke my nose around.
by James Briggs
As advertising creatives we’re told to absorb as many different aspects of culture as possible. Whether that’s watching Question Time, Eastenders and Peppa Pig. Or reading The Sun, The Spectator, and War and Peace. Throw in reading ex-girlfriend’s timelines and that’s a busy remit for anyone. So let's boil it down to 'staying curious'. Which is why I was sat waiting to watch ‘Expiry Date’ at the London International Mime Festival.
Yeah, that's right, mime. Not meme, silly internet obsessed world. My only previous experience of this was Christmas charades. “JAWS! It’s flippin’ JAWS! It's a fin…”
There were no sharks here. There were fish, though. The show from Belgian performance company, Babafish, was inspired by the passing of Anna Nilsson’s grandfather. It tells this man's final moments as he contemplates his life. Surrounding him is a giant hourglass, symbolising time running out, and a series of weird and wonderful contraptions (imagined and made by Anna’s father). These sit between books acting as a domino rally which snakes around the stage - again symbolic of time slipping away. So far, so poignant.
It becomes darkly abstract when we revisit moments from the old man’s life. A series of performance artists, each with their own skills, play out his past. It’s wildly interpretive, which meant it was bloody hard to put a finger on what was happening. We see a younger version of the old man getting married to a woman in a wedding dress, who’s then pushed away by a ballet contortionist. Her movement is mesmerising. But not in a pretty way. She traverses around the stage impossibly - limbs taking on awkward and painful looking angles, like a broken zombie.
A row of books fall.
Next a man is balancing balls, between his elbow, on his face and other surfaces of the body unsuitable for balancing balls.
A row of books fall.
Pieces of paper are tossed into the air, characters writhe on the floor, the contortionist does a strong woman impression against the backdrop of a domestic argument. A row of books falls.
Lots of books are falling.
The final act ends with a pounding rave score, the characters dancing wildly ‘til they end on the floor flapping about like fish. Then, the music dies. Back to the old man. Alone. A final stack of books collapse on each other and the light’s go out.
This man had led a very strange life. At face value, you might of thought he was a clumsy librarian.
It’s impossible to compare such a form of artistry to advertising, but i’ve had three glasses of Malbec, so i’ll try. The idea is fantastic and so is the mechanical set-up. However the storytelling is cold and distant. It disappears down a creative wormhole, as creatives minds often do, but didn’t give itself enough rope to climb back out again. I wanted to know about this man’s life. Care, empathise, reminisce with him. And whilst the characters deliver skilful dance performances, they leave no emotional trail to the fate of this man. Could it be that everything dies eventually? But then, if so, why so glibly? Like the dominos, it all fell a little flat.
The American woman walking out alongside me thought similar, but expressed it more bluntly. “That looked amazing. But I had no shitting idea what was going on’.
I reckon she would've got my Jaws mime.
The London International Mime Festival runs until the 6th February.
Photo credits: Sigrid Spinnox and Sophie Glossin.