The Vaults, Waterloo.
London’s celebration of physical and devised theatre, mime, puppetry, comedy and cabaret looks set to fill The Vaults with energy and imagination.
You really can smell the creativity as you approach The Vaults, a huge performance venue hidden away under Waterloo station. A heady mix of fresh paint and solvent waft through the air, as the graffiti artists who use Leake Street as a permanent gallery work swiftly on the tunnel walls. How long each image will last, who knows? Another artist may just come along with a roller and a pot of white emulsion and paint over your work to make space for his own.
And that sense of exciting and chaotic impermanence is also reflected in The Vaults, currently hosting the 2014 Mimetic Festival – a fortnight of emerging devised, physical and visual theatre, alongside puppetry and cabaret.
It’s Mimetic’s third year, and features performances from 52 artists and companies from all over the UK and Europe.
The Vaults have been transformed from empty caverns into deliciously intimate theatre spaces, with excellent design work (credited by the artistic director to Jen and Jasper – they know who they are) in the main stage area where bronze drapes and giant baubles hanging from the roof create a festive, pre-Christmas feel.
A festival filled with such an eclectic mix of 120 performers needs some stability at its heart, and that’s provided by the charming host, Pi the Mime. He’s Welsh, he’s got a toy lamb, he wears a succession of nice dresses – and can it really be coincidence that he bears a striking resemblance to glitter-and-glam god Noel Fielding? Pi carries his audience effortlessly, while giving generous support to all the acts previewing their shows at the launch.
There’s plenty of gender politics in the festival. Holestar’s ‘Tranny with a Fanny’ belts out original numbers as she journeys through the extraordinary life story that’s brought her to cabaret via former careers in the army and as a dominatrix.
Marion Deprez challenges us to see beyond her evident physical gorgeousness in her one-woman comedy, while Miss Glory Pearl is a naked stand-up whose show is performed…well, naked. Brave work indeed.
Mimetic is also proud to premier new shows and scratch performances from companies like Divinely Human, whose puppet sketches see the Holy Trinity squabbling over the telly at Christmas. And puppetry gets very grown-up indeed with Boris & Sergey’s Preposterous Improvisation Experiment. It takes three skilled performers to manipulate a bald, faceless doll dressed as Cathy from Wuthering Heights, but as anyone who’s seen War Horse or The Light Princess knows, it’s extraordinary how much life can be imparted to sticks and fabric. Here, dancing to Kate Bush, Cathy shivers, quivers and shape-shifts through the moors – though she soon casts aside her Victorian modesty for a raunchy foray to visit the gentlemen of the audience. This is Mimetic, after all.
Physical theatre in the European tradition has filtered into every aspect of modern peformance, and here its roots in commedia dell’arte, masks and mime are brought up to date with dreamlike projections in Teatro In Centro’s Pathos, and the fast-paced comedy of Familia de la Noche’s The Greatest Liar In All The World.
Artistic director Alexander Parsonage is justifiably proud to have drawn together so many acts with so much in common, and expects the festival to be a hub offering networking opportunities for artists to share, collaborate and create work for the future.
‘We’re none of us doing this for the money,’ points out Parsonage. ‘We’re here for the respect of our peers.’ Hence the Mimetic Awards, which acknowledge and reward excellence in theatre, cabaret, work in progress, burlesque and spirit of the festival.
Mimetic looks securely settled as a London fixture, and very much at home in The Vaults. You really won’t see anything else quite like it.
Until 29 November 2014
Book at http://www.mimeticfest.com