There’s a distinctly continental feel to My!Laika’s Popcorn Machine, part of the London International Mime Festival. Four performers, from The Netherlands, Italy, Germany and Argentina, combine circus, street theatre, live music and a raft of ridiculous props in a show that could not have been conceived in the UK. It’s a refreshing take on the European cross-disciplinary tradition, and revels in its freedom and fun.
On a stage set with a piano, three guitars and a gazebo of live wires, three women and one man wrangle, wrestle, show off and berate one another. Referencing Dada, Hendrix and Béjart, they perform a sequence of circus acts within the loose context of a ménage à quatre in domestic meltdown.
It doesn’t always hang together – the relationships are unclear and the multilingual element is extraneous – but it has an engaging humour, strong physical skills and some memorable visual moments.
One of the best is in the feisty acrobatic catfight between Philine Dahlmann and Elske van Gelder. Upside down in a testing head-to-head balance, Dahlmann gives her rival a petulant slap on the face, highlighting the extreme physical situation with absurdist humour. Salvatore Frasca, rake-thin in a sharp suit and with a David Lynch haircut, is already funny without moving; but when he extends his impossibly long fingers and arms, he instantly achieves a zany surrealism.
Most affecting is Eva Ordoñez-Benedetto’s extraordinary trapeze act. After a slow, rhythmic swing, her chalk-white limbs slip into oddly angular poses and bewitching spins. From an off-kilter balance on the bar, she suddenly drops, arms and head flopping. It’s beautiful, and slightly disturbing.
With so many props being deployed – including a sewing machine, a bar, a light-bulb bouquet of roses – there is a lot going on, and often a danger of upstaging. The apocalyptic episode featuring the exploding popcorn machine is nicely orchestrated, but overall a tighter focus is needed. Frasca’s clever juggling, from behind a fountain, of balls that turn into hands, then body parts, almost went for nothing. It’s right that this show has a random, improvisational style, but a light flick of the director’s whip could martial it into delightful, organised chaos.