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Du Goudron et des Plumes: Barbican London International Mime Festival 2011 Review

Du Goudron et des Plumes is produced by Lyon based Companie MPTA in collaboration with circus maestro Mathurin Bolze. It runs from 26th - 29th January 2011 at the Barbican as part of the Bite programme and the Mime Festival.

Written by Amelia Gregory

Du Goudron et des Plumes Illustration Gemma Smith
Du Goudron et des Plumes by Gemma Smith.

Du Goudron et des Plumes by Compagnie MPTA with Mathurin Bolze started with a swinging platform lowered slowly over the heads of the performers, crushing them into the floor. They emerged from beneath, ripping out the innards, transforming the planks into a clanking and clattering playground as the dancers/acrobats/I’m-not-really-sure-what-you-call-them swung adeptly, building and destroying, meeting and parting. Rotating vignettes from everyday life met with random acts of acrobatic grace, often finely tuned for comedic effect – the performers scaling planks to sit, gnome like, at the top, or hanging upside down to mirror each other.

Du Goudron et des Plumes by Ellie Sutton
Du Goudron et des Plumes by Ellie Sutton.

The platform rose, swaying, as paper sheets were unleashed to shadow the manic silhouettes of the characters behind until, in a flurry of motion, the paper was ripped apart. From minimalist jazz to crashing bells the soundtrack was finely tuned to the minutest motion, and as the platform tilted the occupants scrabbled to maintain control, clinging to each other, pushing and pulling. My later reading of the notes tells me this was a metaphor for our unstable future on this earth, and how we can either act together to survive or fail apart. The show ended with them mired in the middle as if aboard a desperate life raft.

Du Goudron et des Plumes Ellie Sutton
Du Goudron et des Plumes by Ellie Sutton.

I’d like to say that I drifted off rather frequently during this show because I’m really pre-occupied with the launch of my new book this Friday, but the fact is I probably would have done anyway… for me, that’s the trouble with theatrical shows that lack a strong narrative. At times the rhythm and flow of the five fluid acrobats had me gripped, but then I would find I’d gone somewhere else entirely as they swung repeatedly from side to side (shit, I don’t have enough drink for 300 guests), the motion acting as a hypnotist’s pendulum to send me off… and when I snapped to the scene had completely changed…a character was half naked smoking a pipe at the end of a plank, the lone girl was cascading through the air astride a rope swing, a man was swinging wildly from the oversized lamp. Director Mathurin Bolze calls this effect “mesmerising patterns.”

Du Goudron et des Plumes by Bertie Simpson
Du Goudron et des Plumes by Bertie Simpson.

This performance was typical of the way that traditional circus skills have been co-opted by mavericks such as Mathurin Bolze to create something much more abstract and intriguing. He certainly seems to be a popular man: the performers took multiple bows and a standing ovation flooded through the packed theatre as the lights came up on the opening night of Du Goudron et des Plumes.

Du Goudron et des Plumes plays at the Barbican as part of Bite until the 29th of January. You can read another interesting review by Ought to be Clowns here. The London International Mime Festival continues until 30th January 2011. My new book, Amelia’s Compendium of Fashion Illustration, is officially launched tomorrow.


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