Theatre Review: The Best of BE Festival @ Circomedia
by Danni Gillespie
Photo Credit: Jamie Allan L+®gende
BE Festival is Birmingham’s international festival of performing arts, attracting many talents from a variety of walks of life. Each year The Best of BE Festival travels with the favourite acts to perform across the UK. This year saw incredibly intelligent contemporary performances including a hilarious yet philosophical juggling set and a heart-touching story performed in masks and without speech. Circomedia, a beautiful church lit in purple floodlights, became the stage for dazzling comedy and intelligent performing art.
French-Portuguese Romain Teule’s contemporary performance Légende kicked off the evening. Teule cleverly displayed the possibilities of language and the (mis)interpretation of words whilst “lecturing” bird song. Teule’s character had a comical awkwardness as he introduced the audience to his lecture on his study of the language of the birds.
Teule began the lecture, and the subtitles on the board made little sense. Then, when translated, the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. “Take king nose, lizard king, me me kingdom” became “making notes, listening, mimicking them.” The audience delighted in this bizarre presentation of the English language. For some sentence the subtitles made sense but the speech was comically hard to understand. “Elephants” pronounced “elle-phantos”, “winged” becomes “wing-uud”, “interpretation” said “inter-preye-station”. Teule unpacked the complex English language and displayed how its rules make little sense. This is a phenomenon many know to be true but Teule displayed it in an exaggerated and comical way that really got the audience thinking.
The focus of the language of the birds is in itself a linguistic pun. Teule’s character talks of studying the chirps and chimes of the birds and constructs of it as if a spoken language. Teule later revealed “the language of the Birds” (la langue des oiseaux) was a secret language of the Troubadours in medieval France, allegedly based on puns and symbolism drawn from homophony; an incredibly thought through example of the complexities of language. An intelligent, thought-provoking and entertaining piece.
Photo Credit Jonny Fuller-Rowell | What Does Stuff Do
Best of BE descries the next act, What Does Stuff Do, perfectly: “Robin Boon Dale trips his way, literally, through a hilarious motivational circus lecture.” A quick stage change and we were introduced to a set of one paddling pool, four wine glasses, two full water jugs and one flip chart…
Bristol-based Dale wore blue swimming shorts, a small hoop around his neck and holding a ping-pong bat. He delighted the audience with his physical comedy and his ping pong skills. Dale tailored his performance to the audience’s participation spectacularly, bouncing off their reactions. The half-naked juggler introduced his act as “What Does Stuff Do?” He explained, whist juggling three balls, that juggling is a manipulation of the tools one has been given. You can manipulate style, movement and shape using negative space and your tools. Dale presented a beautifully philosophical question: “is juggling liquid?”
Dale then stood in the paddling pool and continued to explain his hypothesis pouring water from one glass to another. This became more and more extravagant and before the audience could blink, he was juggling wine glasses filled with water – very successfully I might add. This young man proved he was not only a philosopher, a comedian but also a talents juggler.
Dale explored this theory further explaining could change the use of the negative shape of the flip chart (the space between the stand) eventually resulting in a fantastic slapstick scene involving the juggling and the chart, leaving the audience roaring with laughter. He began to conclude that we are tools and we can decide what kind of tool we wish to be, he stated he had been thinking (which was met with many chuckles to the jugglers dismay) of what kind of tool he wished to be. Expecting a philosophical answer, we in-fact were presented with a man with ping pong bats strapped to his head, elbows and thighs…. What more can I say; this was a completely delightful, motivational and hilarious act!
Andre & Dorine
Spanish company Kulunka Teatro presented André and Dorine, a beautiful story of an elderly couple dealing with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. However there is no dialogue in the play; all emotions are conveyed through body language, music and each actor wore a caricatured mask. A living room is the setting, complete with family portraits mounted on the walls, a desk home to a typewriter and a double bass resting against the wall. First, we meet an elderly man, typing away noisily on his typewriter. Next, an elderly woman walks into the scene, takes a set and starts playing the double bass. The pair argues though trying to dominate with each of their sounds (the typewriter and bass) – thus setting the tone of their relationship.
This was beautifully done; we did not need any spoken dialogue to understand this was an old, married, bickering couple. The third character is a son who is clearly tired of mother fixing his shirt every time he comes round, and father trying to get him to read his work in progress, again beautifully conveyed through non-speech. Kulunka Teatro manages to create a family dynamic without any words. We understood every movement and even every look even though the masks expressions never changed. A true testament to physical acting.
You quickly come to the realisation the mother has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the symptoms minor at first with her forgetting where she put her coat, escalating to a heart-breaking scene where she is unable to recognise her husband. She forgets how to play her double bass, causing her great distress, and when her husband turns to console her, we see his mask is now a featureless one: we see what she sees. The cast’s ability to convey all of this through body language, sound and props is truly remarkable. From this we are taken on jovial and comical flashbacks to see how the couple met. The body language was exaggerated and sound effects (such as how the bass and typewriter set the relationship of the characters in the first scene) were employed perfectly. You journey with the couple through this time of their life and the actors ensure their audience is utterly immersed in their story. The play offers a realistic exploration of a complex marriage; if you ever have the chance to see this masked production - take it, it’s spectacular.
These productions were so different in style, form and content, but each as entertaining and the next. Each performer reappeared on stage for a 20 minute question and answer with the audience along with the BE Festival director. It was a fantastic opportunity for the performers to share how their work developed, how they trained and served as an amazing, intimate end to the show.