Tuesday 16 August 2011

The paradox of mime

Man of Valour, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Demonstrating the art of the deceptive blurb, Man of Valour’s entry in the Fringe programme neglects to mention that prospective audiences will incur ninety minutes of mime. Impressive though Paul Reid’s performance is, after an hour I wanted to hold out two fingers, close one eye and line him up in imagined crosshairs. ‘Chck, chck. Doosh’.

Taking a standard-issue narrative of the little man caught in the cogs of a bigger system, Man of Valour explodes the banality of the office worker-bee into blockbuster daydreams. Attempts at fly-swatting morph into light-sabre battles, pavement-pounding grows into chase sequences and computer games envelop the player. It’s all framed as a son’s attempt to scatter his father’s ashes as he would have wished.

The truth, however, is that nothing really matters because this flittish narrative is used to demonstrate Reid’s skills rather than vice versa. Everything Reid does blends into one, not through lack of distinction on his part, but because distraction comes before narrative drive. We simply stop caring enough to bother distinguishing. This is the paradox of mime: individual actions are reduced to their essential signifiers, yet the overall is saggy with incidentals.

In fairness, if you can stick with Man of Valour, it does offer a sharp portrait of urban psychosis. Reid’s whitefaced naïf, whose eyebrows are permanently raised with anxiety, brilliantly conveys the everyman’s inferiority complex, in which aptitude is overwhelmed by timidity. The city, here, is a fearful place, a blank canvas for the projection of inner-demons. It’s realised with admirable concision in Jack Phelan’s minimalist projections that locate a scene using a specific type of light-fitting.

And you really have to give Reid credit for his virtuosic technique. Even if he’s let down by its outlet, it’s quite a marvel to watch. Just not for a full hour and a half.


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