Petit théâtre de gestes is what one can only describe as circus in a garden shed. Lauren Cabrole and Elsa De Witte dart around in a dusty, toymaker-esque world, creating tricks and acts on a rather diminutive scale. The humour is wonderfully offbeat, almost Mr Bean esque; quiet, bizarre but hardly challenging – happily comfortable.
Part of the wonderful London International Mime Festival, Bêtes de foire’s lyrical piece has a whiff of the silent cinema about it. Sound and movement intertwine mostly seamlessly in this low-key blend of puppetry and circusry, and the humour trickles out from our thwarted expectation of grand, awe-inspiring feats that usually accompany a circus show. Cabrole brings out a hoop and a lion-tamer’s podium, the drums beat, flourishing gestures are made… and a tiny, black, shaggy dog appears from behind the curtain, completely unimpressed with the theatrics and obviously disturbed from a good nap. The bouncing of around 6 white balls creates an amusing routine for ten minutes, puppetry trapeze artists ‘throw’ each other around the room in slow motion. It’s all very well-thought-out, very clever.
The issue with the piece is that it ends up generating chuckles, rather than out-loud laughter. The relationship between Cabrole and De Witte is remarkable, but almost too subtle for the audience to catch sight of. Looks and sighs disappear in a flash, and the murky (although atmospheric) lighting means we are constantly aware of things we might have missed. Le petit theatre des gestes is made out of shades of beige and cream, small dainty stitches rather than loud, impressive patterns. It plays with silence, shadows and sewing machines in the way elves or garden gnomes might. Petit théâtre, ‘little theatre’, is an apt way of describing the style – the moments of wonder come in slowly-built ebbs and flows; there is nothing really to astonish or amaze.
There is obviously huge amounts of skill involved, but the humble nature of the piece meant restlessness was kicking in once the 60 minute mark was hit. Pretty, yes; thoughtful, definitely – but one wishes there was slightly more to remember when leaving the theatre.