Andres Angulo, Björn Leese, Johannes Stubenvoll, Thomas van Ouwerkerk, Michael Vogel
Familie Flöz (London International Mime Festival 2023)
Peacock Theatre

Feste - Familie Flöz Credit: Simon Wachter
Feste - Familie Flöz Credit: Simon Wachter
Feste - Familie Flöz Credit: Simon Wachter
Feste - Familie Flöz Credit: Simon Wachter
Feste - Familie Flöz Credit: Simon Wachter
Feste - Familie Flöz Credit: Simon Wachter
Feste - Familie Flöz Credit: Simon Wachter
Feste - Familie Flöz Credit: Simon Wachter

Why Feste? You’d never guess from watching the ninety-minute, no interval, goings-on at a rich mansion with caretaker, housekeeper, maître d, waiters, deliverymen and a poor homeless pregnant girl. Well, look to Shakespeare’s intelligent fool in Twelfth Night and his song with its “for the rain it raineth every day” refrain. Read it in full.

That, I think (it’s not spelled out), is the basis for this compassionate mask drama—lots of fun but with an undercutting moral. You may keep out the world with your electronic gates, but it will seep in. The angel is not too happy—is this a reference to Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire? A park bench features. Is she looking out for that destitute girl?

I was thrilled to see that Familie Flöz were back in London—the last time I saw this fabulous company was in 2016, and I believe that was the last time they were here. So, this is a treat. Not just for me but for a chap who guffaws so loudly throughout that my companion is ready to throttle him.

It is not crude slapstick—well a tiny bit with the dog poo and the vomit scenarios—but quite subtle, so what the man finds so amusing in the most sensitive episodes I have to imagine. I chuckle, smile, and look on in awe at the body language of three performers playing multiple parts in masks.

The masks are works of art, each with a decisive character of its own—I swear one looks like Serge Gainsbourg and the soft-hearted housekeeper with turned-up nose has the body language of Frances de la Tour. How can these static things be so expressive—they look at us and we believe their glances.

The toings and froings are in preparation for a wedding, a world of masters and servants, of upstairs and downstairs. A chef bakes a cake upstairs. Downstairs the caretaker is a lazy so and so. The fey maître d with the bad back falls for the delivery boy but it’s oh so understated—he keeps his pen.

But when a young pregnant girl stumbles into their courtyard, only the housekeeper helps her. The clumsy caretaker throws her out like a bag of rubbish. There is constant friction between the two, especially over the piles of black rubbish bags. There’s a faulty electric light and a wet floor for skidding, steps to trip over, a basement, and lots of entrances and exits. There’s even a bit of break dancing… and the dance teacher is choice.

During a drunken party with randy waiters and fisticuffs, the girl gives birth and dies, I think. Does anyone notice? She is that plant that needs watering, just a bit of tender care. She’s the one who thinks to water the dying plant outside the caretaker’s cubbyhole. An obvious metaphor amongst the hour and a half of the most beautiful, silly, funny interconnectedness, all without any facial or vocal contribution. The upright piano and cello at the side of the stage speak most eloquently.

I work out by body types that there are only three performers dashing on and off, doing lightning changes, but my companion is taken in, so good are their transformations. As I should imagine are most in the audience, totally absorbed in this mystery. Hard to believe that these male and female, delicate and coarse creatures, are played by three hirsute young men—a tall one, a medium one and a short one—the perfect permutation. Andres Angulo, Johannes Stubenvoll and Thomas van Ouwerkerk have their timing off to a T.

They do an encore and suddenly there are five. The audience gasps, but of course it's the two female musicians in disguise. Magical, tender, observational comedy, but I must say Hajo Schüler’s cunning masks and Mascha Schubert’s costumes make for a convincing masquerade on Felix Nolz’s realistic set.

Meticulous direction is by Michael Vogel assisted by Björn Leese; music is by Maraike Brüning and Benjamin Reber with Dirk Schröder’s sound design (sound effects are brilliant); video work is by Maraike Brüning and Reinhard Hubert (also the lighting designer): a small team with a big heart and big talent.

Founded in 1994, Familie Flöz is based in Berlin, though its origins are the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen, “the only public education facility for physical theatre in Germany”. This is the company’s fifth visit to the Mime Festival, but only my third having only seen Teatro Delusio and Infinita. I wish they came more often.

Another sadness is that this will be the final edition of the festival in its present form. What will evolve we don't know yet, but directors Helen Lannaghan and Joseph Seelig promise that they “will continue together to promote physical and visual theatre in co-presentations at different London and UK venues…”

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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