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Pissed Frenchmen, stuffed animals and samurai: why we love London International Mime Festival

The annual London International Mime Festival is back for more wordless wonderfulness, and it's even showing us all how to bring the EU together

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Baron's Perches
© Christophe Raynaud De Lage

It is snowing in Austria. I have just trudged through the ‘EU citizens’ queue at Salzburg airport – somewhat wistfully, as it will presumably be one of the last times I do such a thing – and crunched my way into the centre of the picturesque Alpine city, then to a circus tent pitched in a fairy-light-lit park on the outskirts.

I have come all this way in order to watch a brace of pissed up Frenchmen have a scrap. ‘Marée Basse’ by duo Sacekripa is a charming, hilarious, faintly alarming show about two dissolute acrobat brothers morosely slobbing around their kitchen. Fuelled by booze, simmering resentment and the munchies, they glug back cheap plonk, attempt to cook a bit and occasionally break into a brawl.

It is shambolic in an utterly magical way – there aren’t so much big set pieces as a constant blackly comic twinkle as the duo lob wine bottles and kitchen knives about with a precisely calibrated lackof grace. If this was actually a couple of drunks having a fight, you’d be sad. As it is, experiencing this show is akin to being taken hostage by a Buster Keaton film.

“Sacekripa,

‘Marée Basse’ by Sacekripa © Vincent d'Eaubonne

‘It is shambolic in an utterly magical way’

At the end the duo, who do not speak German, ask in English if their sell-out audience can tell their friends about the show when it heads to the Barbican. It’ll be one of the main attractions of the fortieth annual London International Mime Festival, taking place this month.

If you’re feeling blue about leaving Europe, LIMF 2017 is undoubtedly for you. ‘Mime’ is a loaded, anachronistic word – long-time organisers Joseph Seelig and Helen Lannaghan admit they might call it something else if they were founding the fest today. ‘Any suggestions for a new name will always be considered! But it’s a talking point. It has served well for 40 years.’

But what it boils down to is inventive, mostly wordless theatre from across Europe that shows our cultures have much more in common than our disparate languages suggest. So alongside a host of great UK companies there is a German comedy about a chaotic Italian opera company performed by three actors with 30 masks (‘Teatro Delusio’, Peacock Theatre, January 12-15); an Italian piece about – I shit you not – aliens battling samurai on a distant planet (‘Marzo’, Barbican, January 24-28); and a French show, ‘Here Lies Shakespeare’ (Jacksons Lane, January 11-15), in which a bunch of stuffed animals re-enact the Shakespeare authorship debate (somehow).

Dewy Dell, Marzo

‘Marzo’ by Dewey Dell © Wolfgang Silveri/Steirischer Herbst

It is, as ever, a marvellous celebration of human endeavour and eccentricity. Inevitably it’s hit a bit of chop because of our imminent disentanglement from the EU. ‘We’re concerned about the future,’ say Seelig and Lannaghan. ‘Apart from anything else, the fall in the value of sterling is making life difficult. New rules about visas and carnets will add uncertainty, expense and a lot more work. But there are no boundaries or barriers in theatre, especially theatre without words, and we’ll remain internationally focused – if anything, even more than before.’

The London International Mime Festival has been a beacon of joy and invention for decades’ worth of dark Januaries, and will surely be for many more to come.

London International Mime Festival takes place at various venues until Feb 4 2017

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London International Mime Festival: what to see

It's London! It's January! It's mime time! Here's our guide to the astounding shows on offer at the London International Mime Festival 2017, featuring everything from spectacular circus and mask theatre to manga-inspired dance and taxidermy animal puppetry. .

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