Patrick Centre, Birmingham Hippodrome, Wednesday 31st January, 2018
Theatre Ad Infinitum are reviving their hit show from seven years ago and it’s a good fit for the Hippodrome’s studio space. The cast of two, accompanied by an accordionist-vocalist, perform a dumb show about loss and moving on, using masks and movement and a bit of heavy breathing. It is the story of a widower, an old man at a loss because of loss. He makes two cups of tea, forgetting his wife is gone. Flashback scenes replay his memories: taking her to the hospital, her flatlining… We go back to earlier, happier times: how they first met, for example, their first dance. There are also unhappier times: her miscarriage – sensitively and poignantly portrayed. In the memory scenes, the masks are removed and the movements are more stylised, more staccato.
Masks usually dehumanise the wearer – ask any psychopathic killer in a horror film – and all expression comes from the actions and gestures of the wearer. Even though the actors use one hand to hold the masks, this doesn’t reduce their ability to express what their characters are going through, their thoughts and reactions, while enabling swift donning and doffing of their old faces as we go in and out of flashbacks. We recognise the humanity of the elderly couple, and it helps that their life together follows a familiar pattern, moments we can recognise and to which we can relate. It’s basically the first ten minutes of Up! performed with grace, dance and gentle humour.
George Mann and Deborah Pugh are remarkable in their range and precision. Inventive use is made of sound effects: the man’s wartime experiences, for example, and his PTSD. On the accordion and singing or whistling all the way through, the versatile Sophie Crawford provides the soundtrack – there is humour here too, like the sudden shift into Girl From Ipanema when the couple get into a lift.
It’s an absorbing piece, amusing, touching and uplifting, deceptively simple and impressively presented. Mime worthy of your time.