The Dark Side of Mime, Etcetera Theatre

Guest Review by Oliver Wake

The Dark Side of Mime is an alarming prospect. I’ve always thought there was something slightly sinister about the traditional white-faced mime act, looking like some kind of anachronistic vaudevillian newly escaped from a silent film. Promising to mix “clownery with classic pantomime, porn, splatter, and violence”, it sounded like a nightmare scenario. Its publicity material also asked “are you bold enough to enter the dark side of your mind?”, to which the sensible answer has to be: no, that sounds hellish.

Alas, less than fully conversant with this marketing literature, your intrepid correspondent found himself only slightly warily at the Etcetera Theatre, where The Dark Side of Mime can be seen as part of the Camden Fringe festival. It’s staged by Finland’s Theatre Takomo with support from the Finish Institute in London as part of a programme of cross-cultural collaboration.

The performance lived up to its publicity. A beret-wearing pasty-faced loon indulged in a variety of violent and sexual acts in mime, stretching all notions of taste and decency well beyond breaking point. The humour comes from the show’s shocking audacity and from more conventional physical clowning, though the former predominates, too heavily so for my taste.

Although it’s easy to mock, mime clearly requires a high degree of skill and it was impressive how well the performer here physically describes his character’s deviant activities, rarely losing the audience’s comprehension, despite the unorthodox nature of some of the acts depicted. Indeed, there are moments when the most extreme activities – such as the mime sewing himself into a ‘suit’ of his murder victim’s skin – cause genuine revulsion despite their intangibility. The use of appropriate lighting and soundscapes also does much to illustrate settings and create atmosphere.

The audience is made an accessory to this act of criminal mime, with a degree of participation that took many of us by surprise. Be warned: there is no safe seat. I got off lightly – merely being required to start the mime’s chainsaw with which he then ‘murdered’ half the audience – while others were required to dance or indulge in all manner of simulated kinky sex acts. Towards the end one gentleman was taken on stage and gamely took part in a whole sketch, at times getting one-up on the mime himself with his own improvisation, winning well-deserved hearty applause.

The Dark Side of Mime requires broad minds and strong stomachs of its audience. It is outrageous, horrifying and intermittently funny. Can anyone recommend a good psychiatrist?

The Dark Side of Mine is on until 4 August as part of the Camden Fringe Festival 


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