|Marcello Magni in Marcel|
Photo: Pascal Victor/ArtComArt
So when professional clown Sean Kempton, currently on the other side of the world on tour with Cirque de Soleil, recommended I see Jos Houben at the Mime Festival, it went straight to the top of my wish-list. Houben was in two shows, a one-off performance of his acclaimed The Art of Laughter, and Marcel, in partnership with Marcello Magni, which opened the London International Mime Festival.
Restricted by the logistics of looking after a husband with a broken leg, and three children, I slipped out after lunch and was back before tea for for the Sunday matinée of Marcel, though it was sorely tempting to stow away in the back of the auditorium afterwards, and stay on for the Art of Laughter that followed. The first surprise was to read in the programme that “Marcel”, which I had assumed to be a nod to Marceau, was in fact a reference to a vest worn by labourers, the everyman. The second was to see Houben and Magni moving going up and down the aisles, meeting random members of the public - there was a generosity in that gesture that characterised the whole performance, and warmed up the audience before the show had even begun.
In a Kafkaesque scenerio, Magni, a short, compact, ageing Italian performer, has some sort of work permit that needs stamping, and Houben, a tall, gangly Belgian, sets all sorts of physical tests for him to pass first. Each actor is uniquely funny, and together the chemistry generates a physical poetry in motion, making me think of the tradition of old where troubadors would throw each other a line of verse to catch and develop. And of course the duo are a contemporary articulation of a long line of supreme clowns and comedy pairings: Laurel & Hardy, Abbot & Costello, Morecombe & Wise, to name a few.
The action revolves around a curved wooden scuplture - work of art, block, ramp, balance, slide, platform - that was a fulcrum for all manner of agile mishaps, stumbles and tumbles. And then there were classic gags, exquisitely timed, the cigarette that wouldn't light, the wayward umbrella, the rebellious springy stool - my cheeks were aching from start to finish at this "il bufo" brand of clowning. The flipside of the double-headed clowning coin was a beautiful nod to the poignant Pierrot, in a collar deftly made out of newspaper, ruffled by the breeze of time. At the end of the day, the joke is, none of us are getting out of this alive, and there are two ways of dealing with it this burlesque: you can either have a sense of humour failure about it, or laugh along with Marcel. Bravo! Chapeau! Bring it on!
* Johannes Alinhac, aka "Butzi", is leading the five day workshop on Clown acting and creativity through body exercises at The Poor School, Kings Cross 22-26 February. Butzi is an actor and magician who has trained with Ira Seidenstein for many years, and uses his methodology, which is a powerful tool for any performer or storyteller. Contact Christopher Howell for more details. See event page (click here)