Teatro Delusio begins as the audience are still finding their seats – the cast move about the stage disguised as theatre technicians, shifting equipment and setting up gags that will delight the audience for the next hour and a quarter of divine slapstick. It is the first of a series of metatheatrical touches in a show where the drama usually kept backstage in the dark is brought into the light – and we are reminded what theatre can do for our ability to empathise.
Familie Flöz are one of the foremost full-mask companies working today, and here three actors portray twenty-nine characters who pass through the backstage world of the theatre. Some of these cameos are fleeting – a triangle-player who is unable to find the stage is a particularly memorable creation – and others have sustained, affecting character arcs.
It is astonishing, but the frozen faces of Familie Flöz’s masked cast are imbued with a moving pathos, and gain expression from the performers’ use of precise physicality to spur the imaginations of the audience. We recognise ourselves in the simple struggles of these simulcra of humanity. Every moment of physicality contains a level of familiar detail that is akin to brilliant observational comedy, occasionally leading to spontaneous applause from the audience. Interpersonal relationships between the characters are made crystal clear. This is pure theatrical magic, and as such the perfect medium to explore what ‘theatrical magic’ might mean. There is one particularly farcical section where a portly stage manager and the pompous director frantically fight to get both diva and prop baby onstage which provoked roars of laughter from the audience. Yet the moment afterwards, where both stare transfixed onto a stage we cannot see as she begins to sing, is beautiful. For a moment they forget everything else, and they are mesmerised by what is happening onstage – and so are we.
Among the pathos there are also moments of sublime clowning. A ballerina has her headpiece stapled to her head. A puppet is frustrated by the dexterity of its puppeteers. A man’s stomach prevents him from reaching his table of spaghetti. All are delivered with a sensitivity and attention to detail that brings each character distinctively to life.
Near the close of the play a technician, walking offstage numbly after a small tragedy, glances onstage to where an actress is singing “O Mio Babbino Caro”. For the smallest of moments, both he and I broke down. If you’ve never seen Familie Flöz’s work before, or want to see a piece of work that perfectly marries form and content, then catch this show before the end of the fringe.
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