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Betes de Foire – Petit Theatre de Gestes review at Barbican Pit, London – ‘inventive mime show’

Betes de Foire – Petit Theatre de Gestes at Barbican Pit, London.: Photo: Lionel Pesque Betes de Foire – Petit Theatre de Gestes at Barbican Pit, London.: Photo: Lionel Pesque
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For all its wit and whimsy, the world of Betes de Foire – Petit Theatre de Gestes, created and performed by Elsa de Witte and Laurent Cabrol, is a rather gloomy one. It’s set in a flea market-cum-tailor shop, with wooden shelves and rails full of dark-hued coats and hats. The sense of moth-eaten mustiness is matched by corduroy-clad Cabrol’s lugubrious clowning.

As De Witte sets to work, sternly, on the sewing machine, Cabrol responds to its judders and whirs with a twitchy physicality. Eyes darting and shoulders hunched, he begins to balance a trio of top hats on his head and shoulders with a deftness that belies all the awkward moues and shrugs.

Later he does some lovely haphazard juggling, plus a routine in which he fits five ping-pong balls into his mouth, fires them into the air and catches them again. Luckily, Cabrol has the cheek-pouch elasticity and capacity of a hamster, but those with a sensitive gag reflex might find themselves dry-heaving in sympathy.

Unfortunately, De Witte doesn’t get to do as much – she’s the straight woman here. It’s really Sokha the dog who steals the show, despite spending most of it resting in her basket under a shelf. She’s the ultimate sad clown, with a droopiness and vulnerability that speaks silent volumes. Her canine charm overshadows the contributions of some sinister mechanical puppet contraptions with giant papier mache heads and rusted stick limbs. One bangs a drum and rotates. There’s invention here, but a lack of appeal.

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Mournful canine performer Sokha excels in an inventive, if gloomy, mime show