Berlin based Familie Flöz present a master class of mime, puppetry and ensemble theatre. Set backstage at the grand opera, Teatro Delusio tells the story of three lowly stage hands – archetypes of the theatrical family. One is young and eager, the other idle and frail, while the boss is slow, steady and capable; concerned as much with keeping the show on track despite the people around him, as he is with having his next meal and making sure he gets to watch the football. Over the course of the show we follow our three protagonists as they play out their hopes and fears, their dreams and their fantasies.
The Mask is a fantastic tool for the actor. It requires precision in physicality: a slowness, and a deliberateness that creates essentialised performances. Stripping the actor of their own individual personality, the mask creates universal characters and archetypes. Speaking to larger truths about the human condition than the subjective here and now. There is a reason why mask performance is so universal, and why in so many cultures its roots are tightly bound with religious practice. In covering up the performer’s own specific identity, it opens up the possibility of accessing much larger universal identities.
Full face masks require an extraordinary level of skill from the performer. The sight is massively reduced, the voice of the actor is silenced, and even breathing can be difficult. And yet as with all exceptional skills the trick is to make it look easy. The ease and accomplishment on display from Familie Flöz was testimony to a level of virtuosity that was a shear joy to behold. Special mention should also be given to the masks themselves. A well made mask wears many expressions, tilting it in different directions and attitudes opens up a world of nuanced emotion – as the different contours are revealed a smiling face can suddenly frown, a heroic look turn to fear. Hajo Schüler presented us with a masterclass in the art of mask making.
The show begins with a preset of three un-masked stage hands setting up the space – as the lights go down a bunraku puppet emerges from behind a stage door. At first she is only puppeteered by a single performer. But then, in a display of the theatrical confidence and skill we will become used to throughout the show, the puppet is bought to life, first her head, and then each of her hands, as the remaining two performers join the first. This was a brilliant, delicate and humorous opening – giving those members of the audience who were perhaps unfamiliar with mask and puppetry work a gentle opening into the world we would then go on to inhabit.
From that point on the audience were immersed. We see our three protagonists as they attempt to prepare the stage, always tantalisingly out of view on the reverse side of the set, ready for the night’s performance. They struggle with the lighting, they struggle with each other, and they struggle with the cast of 20 odd musicians, performers and directors who are roaming around back stage. And amidst all this struggle and work, we see their flights of fancy – a beautiful romance with a ballerina interrupted by a caped villain, a swashbuckling sword fight, and a movie action hero. The skill of the cast in creating these myriad different characters, the distinct physicalities, the dexterity of the quick changes, was all such that I actually started doubting that there were only three performers involved.
With such an outstanding technical show it seems churlish to bring up any points of criticism, but I would have liked the structure of the show to have been tweaked. The format, bored person/people escape the drudgery of life in fights of fantasy, is a tried and tested genre. This is no bad thing at all, it is so well trod precisely because it’s so universal and relevant. However I personally think that once you’ve established the boredom and hum-drum rhythm of the day-to-day, and you explode into the fantasy, it’s very hard to go back to the boredom without losing the energy of the show. The structure of Teatro Delusio was episodic. Dull life back stage, followed by fantasy, returning to dull life back stage. This also usually meant returning from a sequence with underscoring and sound effects to complete silence. The result was that the show never reached that critical mass of forward energy, that inexorable build of excitement which crescendoes to the final car crash that inevitably concludes the fantasy and brings everyone back to reality with a bump. As a result of the more episodic nature of the show it did feel a little overly long. But as I say this is probably just personal taste. The audience, both young and old, seemed transfixed throughout.
It’s a rare treat to see such virtuosic skill in such an accessible, funny and moving performance: Teatro Delusio has definitely been the high point of my Mime Festival so far: a highly recommended slice of theatrical magic.
You can see Teatro Delusio at The Peacock Thur 12 – Sun 15 Jan 2017. Thur – Sat 7.30pm, Sun 2.30pm.
70 mins / no interval. Age Guidance: 8+
£15 – £29
After-show discussion: Thu 12 Jan
Produced by: Familie Floez, Theaterhaus Stuttgart
Conceived by: Paco González, Bjorn Leese, Hajo Schuler, Michael Vogel
Performed by: Thomas van Ouwerker, Johannes Stubenvoll, Andres Angulo