Connect with me on...

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Mime enough

The London International Mime Festival is a big deal. It's been going since 1977, and still, due to the passion and craziness of its directors, remains fresh, important, and massively successful. It's the longest-running theatre festival of its type anywhere in the world, and I'm a fan.

From the moment when I decided that being a street performer wasn't just a way to make some easy cash, but something that interested me artistically, I have been going to shows at the mime festival. The point at which I realised that street performing was theatre, but just not in a theatre, I figured it was down to me to seek out the other kinds of performance that shared elements with what I was doing - and when the Mime Fest rolled around, well, there they all were. Physical theatre, clown, circus.. high level, respectable schtick. I started going to shows and begun another set of classes in my education.

Even better than that, sometimes, the mime fest would book variety and street performers from around the world to do shows in the lobby of the south bank centre, to entertain people waiting to go into the "proper" festival shows. Me and some of my busking compadres would enjoy this chance to see what our international equivalents were doing, to fire our imaginations, and to catch up with old friends. I'd sit there and watch performers of the level that I wanted to be, and try to figure out how to get there. I'd walk home across the river, dreaming of one day being one of the performers that the mime festival would invite to do a show in the lobby. It never even dawned on me to dream that I might, one day, be one of the "proper" shows. But, last week, that's what happened.

I'm not a mime artist, obviously, but the remit of the festival has always been to present performers who work more with the visual than with text, and I certainly qualify for that. My current one man show, "Showman" is my third, and has the largest amount of juggling routines of any of them - so it's certainly led by its visual component, although there's a lot of smart-mouthed talking too. The festival directors saw the show at the Edinburgh fringe, and asked me if I'd like to come and play with them. Oh yes.

(You can read an interview with me that the Mime Fest conducted, about how I got into this line of work, here. It's a pdf, so you can also download and read it at your leisure.)

It's always a pleasure to return to the Leicester Square Theatre, where, last year, I had performed "Mat Ricardo's London Varieties" for six months (Which you can still watch online, and for free, here - spread the word!), and it was even more of a delight to be told that the entire run of "Showman" had sold out, and pretty quickly. It's obviously an amazing feeling, knowing that you're about to do a week of shows to a room packed full of people who want to see you. No worry about how many will come, no stress about potential embarrassment. As a street performer, I'd struggle to get people interested in watching me at all, as a cabaret artist people come to see a mixed bill, not usually to see a specific performer, but to know that everyone who has bought a ticket specifically wants to see me? Sharp thrill, and something that I'm amazed and grateful for, whenever it happens.

It also means that the audiences will be warmer, and by god were they - every single show was made so easy and fun by the lovely, attentive and quick to laugh people that came. Walking out on stage was, as I like to say, like slipping into a warm bath with your favourite song on the radio. If you were in one of those audiences - thanks. Really, thanks.

The mime festival also set up a couple of special nights. One of the shows was signed live by the rather excellent BSL genius Jacquie Beckford. (And yes, the sign for "juggling" is exactly what you'd assume..), and on another night, following the show, we did an on stage Q&A session with Ben Walters, during which someone asked if I'd thought about writing a book, or doing a documentary about some of the stuff I talk about in the show, to which I replied, shyly, "um..yes please.."

If I havent made it vodka-clear yet, then let me do so - this was an amazing week for me. Truly something ticked off the dream list. Sold out West End run as part of my favourite festival, I mean come on. It wasn't so long ago that I was working on the street just 5 minutes walk from the Leicester Square Theatre. And this time of year, that is not a fun job. Every night last week I took the same journey that I used to take to Covent Garden, except when I left Charing Cross, I'd turn left instead of right, and go to a theatre instead or a freezing cold piazza.

After one of the shows, as I was packing up, a German woman from the audience came up to talk to me. She told me how much she had enjoyed the show. "The other jugglers I've seen are all just one thing", she said, "But you're showing that it can be so many things.. You've revived it, and you've redefined it". I didn't know what to say. "Well done!", she said, with a broad grin, and off she went. And off I went to have a little happy cry in the dressing room.

No comments: