Saturday, August 06, 2005

Mummenschanz NEXT

He’s got a lot to answer for, that Jacques Lecoq. In good way, of course. As well as spurring on individuals like Ariane Mnouchkine, Steven Berkoff and Geoffrey Rush, the Parisian theatre guru’s teachings have inspired the creation of legions of theatre companies. In the US, where a company formed by Lecoq graduates won a Tony Award this year, it is hard to find a physical theatre company that isn’t run by “children of Lecoq”.

Not only do the roots of our own Barabbas theatre company lie in lessons learnt at Lecoq’s Paris school, the theatrical style of recent George’s Dock residents, Footsbarn, also owes considerably to the acting style taught there. And now Dublin is about to be on the receiving end of another project cooked up 30 years ago in the Rue de Faubourgh Saint Denis.

The Swiss company, Mummenschanz, were formed in 1972 by Bernie Schurch, Floriana Frassetto and the late Andres Bossard, with no less a mission than to invent a new form of theatre. But that, ex-pupils often claim, was the essence of what Lecoq (who died in 1999) taught. There was plenty of education in dramatic forms, from comedia del arte to kabuki, but the point was for individual students to come to the own conclusions about what sort of shows this would drive them to stage.

Mummenschanz’ answer to that particular question was created from a combination of puppetry (particularly the sort operated by black-clad puppeteers that is derived from the Japanese bunraku style) mime and mask work, performed with extravagant, surreal costumes created by recycling materials that they find in rubbish dumps of one kind or another.

The show they bring to Dublin, Mummenschanz NEXT, features a series of short sketches, with the four members of the company playing everything from enormous lips to giant floating bubbles, lily pads and flying saucers, and even (gosh!) human beings.

After 30 years, the company’s work is now so thoroughly assimilated (the choreography in the Talk Talk ads that bookend commercial breaks in this year’s Big Brother owe more than a little to the Mummenschanz style) that it must look familiar to even those seeing a show for the first time. But the opportunity of catching the original still holds a powerful draw.

And another thing...
What is it with actors and their bicycles? A while back Olwen Fouere found herself incapacitated on a hospital bed after a contretemps with the Dublin truck. Now Andrew Bennett is off the road and off the stage following an cycling accident, or illness, as the notices in the Abbey foyer last week informed the public. Bennett was to have played the role of Algernon in Conal Morrison’s all male version of the Importance of Being Earnest. Which forces one (forces, I tells you, forces) to remark that while to mislay one actor in a cycling accident might be considered unfortunate, to lose two…