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Marcel review at the Shaw Theatre, London – ‘poignant if simplistic’

Jos Houben and Marcello Magni in Marcel. Photo: Pascal Victor Marcello Magni in Marcel. Photo: Pascal Victor
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The opening show of this year’s London International Mime Festival takes the form of a meditation on the impact of age on the physical comic.

The no-longer young protagonist, Marcel, is being ‘tested’ for something, auditioning for an enigmatic entertainment whose purpose is elusive. As he attempts to carry out the instructions from his intimidating invigilator, negotiating a large curvilinear ramp that looks like half of a Mobius Strip, it is increasingly clear that while his spirit is willing, his flesh is not as elastic as once it was.

Both Jos Houben and Marcello Magni are early members and co-founders of Complicite and their Lecoq training is evident in their gestures and their effective use of mime which is strongly reminiscent of the silent movie comics: Harold Lloyd, Chaplin, and Laurel and Hardy. There is, too, a vaguely sinister undercurrent rippling through the piece as if Samuel Beckett had dramatised a short story by Kafka. But the overall impression is of childlike clowning combined with ageing innocence, and light-fingered slapstick which is mildly entertaining – at times they come across like two of The Three Stooges. While there is some discernible progression, the production suffers from a lack of structure, though the evident chemistry between the two performers prevents it from slipping into random banality.

Using minimal props, including a recalcitrant umbrella and a folding chair with a mind of its own, the production is an occasionally poignant but not very penetrating interrogation of ageing physicality, the kind of piece which ends up pencilled rather than inked on the memory.

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Verdict
A poignant if simplistic exercise in physical clowning.
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