views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Dark Side of the Mime
Etcetera Theatre
31st July 2017


Marc Gassot in Dark Side of the Mime

Photography provided by Teatteri Takomo

Ah, Finland. The country that brought us those lovable, squidgy Moomins and strangely addictive video game franchise Angry Birds. And now... a deeply disturbing mime is on the list of (in)famous exports. Having already toured their show extensively on home turf, Teatteri Takomo have brought Dark Side of the Mime (which could just as easily be renamed "When Mimes Go Wrong") to London for the first time. They promise an hour of "clownery with classic pantomime, porn, splatter and violence" and I can tell you, those Finns are true to their word. Up for anything? You better be if you buy a ticket.

Marc Gassot's traditionally styled mime artist persona seems harmless enough when we first meet him, but it's not long before his solo performance takes a sinister twist. In watching the different sequences play out, there are often moments where you're not entirely sure if you've really understood Gassot's movements, not because there's anything to fault, rather because you can't quite believe he would have done that. There's a really strong wave of sexuality running through the piece, with crude and vulgar very physical clowning that tests the boundaries of the audience's open-mindedness. Explicit though isn't enough to satisfy: Gassot further challenges us with increasingly difficult to stomach scenes that involve murder, sex and plenty of bodily fluids.

Director Akse Pettersson frequently resets the tone, taking us somewhere black and then encouraging us to laugh. We witness Gassot carry out some truly psychopathic acts, then quickly we're guided to laugh at jiggling body parts whilst Karl Sinkkonen merrily provides a live, jaunty musical backdrop. We're deliberately not afforded time to dwell on the horrors of what we see and I suspect many people will have nightmares afterwards when their mind starts to replay what it is that they saw. (Well, they didn't actually see anything, but imagination is often more haunting than reality.)

For a show with so many invisible props, Dark Side of the Mime is toe-curlingly visceral. So much so that you may find yourself accidentally missing part of the action due to desperately trying not to make eye contact with Gassot lest he draw you into the performance. Let me save you from missing out: there are no safe seats. Gassot will nimbly climb through his audience to select his next playmate, so you may as well watch the whole thing unfold and accept your eventual role, whatever that might be. He is perhaps unsurprisingly used to people not wanting to play along and can adapt accordingly if indeed you really can't bring yourself to simulate sex with him. However, when members of the audience abandon all shred of dignity and throw themselves into the game, it's a joy to watch. This is a one-man show, but Gassot's outstanding skill for improvisation shines when he's given an untrained side kick.

As much as I frequently found Dark Side of the Mime uncomfortable viewing, there's no denying Gassot is excellent at what he does and the supporting sound and light effects frame his art wonderfully. Although there's no clear narrative thread running through the show, the violent nature of each fragment almost makes you afraid to piece them them together into something more coherent. It could be too much to take. Whilst it's certainly an acquired taste, Tarantino fans will undoubtedly see the beauty in this piece of work. Camden, if you thought you were incapable of being shocked, take a walk on the dark side.

Dark Side of the Mime opened on 31st July and runs until 4th August 2017 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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