Magic and mime

2011-03-11 11:16

That mesmerising not-to-be-missed Swiss theatrical troupe of comic mimes, the Mummenschanz, are back in South Africa for another riveting run of magic. They opened at the State Theatre in Tshwane and yours truly went to take a look.

These performers have justifiably been described as a theatrical phenomenon like no other for their remarkable use of unusual props: cardboard boxes, rolls of toilet paper, air-vent ducts, and expandable clay and refuse bags, among others, to create “ingenious sculpture-like costumes and huge expressive masks that transform into fascinating and funny creatures”.

But the Mummenschanz are not to be confused with puppeteers, this is theatre aspiring to the grace of art.

If the audience – even if only for a moment – can suspend the appeal of the show’s theatrical sequential sense of story that is carried in the multiple sketches, they will discover a fascinating game of lines and light, shapes and colours.

All of these features play themselves out on the dramatic stage, hinting at the realm of paintings and drawings.

In fact, this is where the underlying magic of this show is located: these players are not bogged down by the need to “say something”.

There’s a childlike touch of innocence too that shines a transcendent hue on these highly experienced performers.

This is why the show has been dubbed great entertainment for the whole family.

This is partly what they were hoping to achieve when they devised the production almost four decades ago.

As their marketing script reveals, the troupe sought to “create a non-verbal theatrical language that would transcend the barriers of language and culture”.

So what you’ll encounter on stage is an ensemble of masks, movement, light and mime with no music or verbal dialogues.

The show relies on the strength of our most primal communicative tools, body movements and gesture, which are employed in a unique and sophisticated way to explore basic human emotions and the rituals of our lives.

The four players deal with scenes of violence, friendship, love, courtship as well as the buffoonery of the human condition.

But, throughout the performance, the audience’s bursts of laughter remain the Mummenschanz’s strongest asset as they unfold their tricks.

» The Mummenschanz are at Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre until March 19, at Port Elizabeth’s Opera House from March 29 to April 3, Durban hosts the show from April 6 to 10 at The Playhouse, and the tour concludes at the Mandela Theatre at the Joburg Theatre from April 12 to 17. Book at Computicket.

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