Wednesday, November 19, 2014

'What Not Cabaret' at Mimetic Festival, 18th November 2014

I love hanging out in The Vaults under Waterloo Station. Over the years I've seen this labyrinth of tunnels accommodate a 1980s-themed apocalypse, a horror-themed circus and a psytrance hippy rave.  Now they're the headquarters for the Mimetic Festival; "a two week celebration of the very best emerging devised, physical and visual theatre, puppetry and cabaret".  I've got a bunch of tickets to these performances, which cover a huge variety of theatrical skills, tones and ideas.

So let's cut to the first act.  What Not Cabaret are half warped entertainment, half performance art with a tiny smidge of artist therapy dolloped on top.  Introducing us to this gaggle of weirdos is Boris Johnson.  Literally mop-headed, suit bulging with chub and mixing metaphors like it's going out of style, he takes us through a characteristically garbled interpretation of London life involving eggs and flapjacks.  Underneath this bumbling buffoonery is Saskia Solomons, whose impression of Johnson is so good it borders on creepy.

Next up is Tiff Wear with Pfft.  He emerges from behind a curtain, clear plastic pipes writhing around his topless body.  At one of the end of the pipes lie two balloons positioned above his head and on his hip.  At the other end lie two foot pumps, and stomping around the place they gradually pump up the balloons.  All the while Wear is staring at the audience and creepily wobbling his body.  The balloons gradually inflate and finally *pop* sending a jump of excitement through the audience.  This type of performance marks the tone of What Not Cabaret, quick, simple and effective realisations of strange ideas.

Next is Arkem Walton's The Cloud, in which he plays an Eeyore-ish personification of the Internet.  Perched atop his head is an enormous, glowing cloud.  He explains that it bulges painfully with the pointless trivia we upload every day; fake Kodachrome pictures of foot, cute cat macros and selfies with art masterpieces.  If all this were getting stuffed into your head you'd be miserable too, so Walton plays the internet like a sad clown, moaning his way through morose covers of Enter Sandman or Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).  The excellent costume combined with Walton's gloomy, "flummoxed" personality makes for a winning combination.

Things get even stranger with Domenico Trombetti's Untitled.  He shuffles onto stage with talcum powder white hair, white face paint and a big poofy white dress.  His head and one arm poke through the top and gaze curiously about.  He behaves somewhat like a gigantic kitten, playfully going through predatory motions as he explores the space.  Soon he's being assailed by his own red-gloved hand.  Trombetti's hugely expressive face and wide, staring eyes make for a striking combination, as does his flopsy body language.  God only knows what the genesis of this idea was, but I dug it.

Finally, Charlotte Wombwell closed up the cabaret as Scarlett Shambles with a ukelele song It Used to be Me.  With a few exceptions I hate ukeleles (the most twee of all instruments - my notes read "a fucking uke!?").  Fortunately I think this was taking the piss out of soulful ukelele pickers.  The performance consisted of a heartbreak song in which Wombwell collapsed into ever more melodramatic fits of emotion, eventually theatrically weeping and grizzling up into the sky. I really hope this wasn't a genuine cathartic display of emotion; I was laughing along with the rest of the audience at how ridiculous it was.

What Not Cabaret is an odd duck, the performances too weird to fit into traditional cabaret. It's main strength is its speed; you simply don't have time to get bored with any of the acts before something new and surreal is on stage.  I'm all about brevity; one of my pet hates is something dragging on for longer than it needs to, so this quickfire gallery of strangeness was very much up my street.

Tickets: £6 (£5 concs) Upcoming Dates: 19, 25, 26, November 2014. Time:  6:35:pm.

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