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Flesh and Blood & Fish and Fowl: a review of the Mime Festival 2011 show at the Barbican

Flesh and Blood & Fish and Fowl features immaculate clowning from Geoff Sobelle and Charlotte Ford. It's one of the funniest shows I've ever seen, but there's a darker meaning behind the absurdities.

Written by Amelia Gregory

Flesh and Blood by Stacie Swift
Flesh and Blood by Stacie Swift.

Flesh and Blood & Fish and Fowl was inspired by photographs of the Ukrainian town of Pripyat near Chernobyl, taken many years after the city was abandoned to radiation. They show the buildings and streets overtaken with plants and animals, which have happily returned to build homes amongst the human detritus.

Flesh and Blood office

The impressively depressing (yet realistic) stage set features the interior of an office for Convenience Foods: dead plants and old mugs litter the desks and the walls sprout crumpled charts and post it notes. It is into this nightmarish world that Jerry, played by Geoff Sobelle, emerges, rolling gracelessly out of a dumpster inside which he has presumably spent the night, and hobbling a few steps to his desk.

Office Deer by Sarah Matthews
Office Deer by Sarah Matthews.

The lengthy intro features a zany fight with a buzzing fly that refuses to die, before we’re introduced to his office colleague Rhoda, played with relish by Charlotte Ford. Despite their dysfunctional relationship she’s clearly interested in developing a more intimate arrangement with her middle management foe, artlessly arching her bottom in his direction as she microwaves her lunch repeatedly.

Office Squirrel by Sarah Matthews
Office Squirrel by Sarah Matthews.

The only time they communicate with words is in cringeworthy office jargon against the backdrop of a wonky Leadership poster featuring a lion’s head superimposed over a mountain. It’s all too easily recognisable as the kind of office that litters the business estates of the UK, which is interesting because Flesh and Blood & Fish and Fowl is performed by Americans.

Office-Bear-by-Sarah Matthews
Office Bear by Sarah Matthews.

Both Geoff Sobelle and Charlotte Ford are trained clowns, adept at using exaggerated body movement and facial expressions to convey repressed feelings that eventually rise to the surface as the theatre set is taken over by a series of stuffed animals and plastic undergrowth.

Mime Festival Rhoda by Sarah Alfarhan
Rhoda by Sarah Alfarhan.

Before long they are mating loudly in the dumpster, from which Jerry emerges disgusted that his animal instincts have at last taken over, immediately spraying his body with disinfectant. As the animals continue to stake their claim over the environment Jerry desperately clings to obsessive compulsive means of control, all of which eventually fail.

Flesh and Blood And Fish and Fowl by Mira Tazkia
Flesh and Blood & Fish and Fowl by Mira Tazkia.

The programme says very little about the meaning of Flesh and Blood & Fish and Fowl, preferring instead – in the great manner of mime – to leave the story to unfold through the telling. But it seems clear that this is a tale of human folly, and how, ultimately, our environment will have the last laugh of all. It’s a testament to the performers’ clowning expertise that what could so easily have come across as uncompromisingly depressing is instead one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen.

Charlotte Ford & Geoff Sobelle

Flesh and Blood & Fish and Fowl is showing at The Pit in the Barbican as part of the London International Mime Festival for the rest of this week. Surreal, funny, disturbing and thought provoking, as I twittered on the night of the performance, this was a brilliant piece of mime: I urge you to grab a ticket now.

The Mime Festival is London’s longest running annual theatre event, encompassing visual theatre of all kinds. It runs from 15th-30th January and features a huge range of performances. Why not check out their calendar of events here?


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