Stephen Mottram is, without doubt, the closest thing to a veteran of the mime scene. With over 30 years in the profession, he has honed a craft often unparalleled – a cerebral understanding of the visual connotations of movement, reducing these ideas back to their barest bones (or, as was often the case, less than bones) and delivering a performance based not only on his own skill, but also on the ideas and assumptions made by the human eye.
It’s a wonderful concept, and one that, for the first half of the show, certainly proves enthralling. Utilising five illuminated pingpong balls for the first ‘act’ – Parachute, Mottram (he, and the rest of the stage, in complete darkness) constructs and defines the life of a single person, forming a romantic relationship, having a child, seeing that child depart, before coping with the loneliness that ensues – funnily enough similar shades of thematic content to Barons Perchés a few nights ago. With deftness and poise Mottram creates the character, the physical endeavours of this protagonist – we see them grow older, more wizened, less exuberant, we watch as they fall in love, desperately trying to maintain that kinship, before coming to terms with the passage of time.
If Parachutes is similar to Barons Perchés in its successes, then it also contains some of the weaknesses – the novelty of the concept does wear thin and, unfortunately, the story tinges on the pedestrian – we never leave this man’s neatly constructed world save for a single airborne escapade – more of that ilk may have worked well. As it stood the general static nature of the performance, confined to a small box, felt almost as much a constriction as a necessity.
Watch the Ball, a second, 12-minute ‘part 2’ (though perhaps more of an epilogue) has Mottram, now with a greater degree of light, assume the role of puppeteer, his miniature figure oscillating between different masked faces and reactions. A fun little ditty, the quick scene’s punchy speed and creativity shone, a nice way to round off the entire performance.
Despite some of these pacing issues, Parachute and Watch the Ball have an intriguing premise that will certainly leave you wondering not only about idea of physicality, but also how the mind tricks us into tracing human shapes, even when nothing is tangibly present. Exiting the theatre it was enchanting to consider that, as much as Mottram was doing his performance on stage, it could only have worked with my eyesight’s deception working equally hard to maintain the subtle magic.