Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh
August 23, 2016
It takes a lot to fill the Grand at the Pleasance Courtyard. It’s a huge venue. But Berlin-based Familie Flöz did just that and more at this year’s Fringe with Teatro Delusio, 90 minutes of intoxicating mime and puppetry full of wonderful characters; clowning, slapstick and more subtle humour; and even a little pathos.
It opens with a ghostly, childlike puppet in white, floating above the stage, manipulated by three men. There’s a beautiful moment when she catches sight of one of them, shies away, then turns her face towards him again. As she stares into his eyes, it’s almost as if she is asking, ‘Who is real here, me or you?’
Teatro Delusio brings to life the backstage goings-on at a theatre, before and during some sort of opera-ballet performance. I half suspect the show was built out of the personal experiences of the performers because, as anyone who has worked backstage will very quickly spot, while everything may be exaggerated, there’s more than a grain of truth in one or two of the characters.
In many ways Teatro Delusio is an intimate show. It may feature 29 characters (remarkably all played by just three performers), but it’s really built around just three: the high-voltage electrician who fancies himself as something of an Action Man; the dreamy stagehand, always with his head in his book; and the always anxious, overweight stage manager trying to keep everything on track while also having one eye on his dinner – or the football.
As they prepare for and stage the show, we also run across the arrogant impresario, a couple of opera singers, a couple of dancers and more. The orchestra is a particularly bountiful source of inspiration with the neurotic triangle player, a total bag of nerves, the loose-limbed trumpeter who would far rather being doing something jazzy, the forgetful percussionist, and the doddering old violinist, all presided over by the supremely confident, preening conductor.
All are brought to life through costumes and oversized masks that come with big noses and even bigger expressions. Of course the looks on the faces don’t change, but so good is the work, I’ll swear you’ll believe they do. Everything told without a single word being spoken. Initially there is a lot of slapstick, but as Teatro Delusio moves on, so we start to see the main threesome more deeply. Their dreams, hopes, fears and personal dramas played out backstage prove just as exciting as those happening on-stage and unseen to us. While they all care about the show, they also want their own chance to shine. They are also, in their own way, three rather lonely individuals and it says much that one actually comes to feel for them.
Dance lovers will particularly enjoy the extended send-up of ballet that comes around the middle of the show that features a male principal who ticks every stereotypical box you could wish to find, and a particularly ticklish ballerina. What do you do when her swan-like headpiece refuses to stay in place? Staple guns have many uses! The scene ends with an up-and-at-‘em swordfight (how we got from Swan Lake to The Three Musketeers I cannot remember, not that it matters) that rounds off with a ‘body in the box’ magic trick with a surprising and heart-jerking twist.
There are some weird moments, and I still don’t get the ‘giving birth’ scene, but to say too much would destroy the fun for those who might catch up with it in London in January 2017 or elsewhere.
Familie Flöz are unique, and Teatro Delusio is theatre, mime, whatever you want to call it, at its brilliant best. I guarantee it will make you gasp, it will make you laugh, and maybe it will even make you shed a tear. Marvellous.
Teatro Delusio will be coming to London as part of the 2017 London International Mime Festival. Catch it at the Peacock Theatre, January 12-15.