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For an underground festival, the Mimetic Festival was indeed under ground at The Vaults in Waterloo. It’s difficult to find, and it’s even more difficult to find where you’re going once you’re inside. With several spaces running performances at the same time, one requiring an escort in order to find, it’s easy to get lost in the gently frenetic atmosphere of the festival. There’s certainly a hipsterish feel to it – including several Meg Ryan lookalikes (circa When Harry Met Sally) and the odd moustache or seven – and the only thing you can really rely on happening is the thunder of trains overhead.
We’re in the escorted-to Lucy’s Room for What Not Cabaret, and Boris Johnson bounces onto the stage to introduce the show. He misleadingly looks like a woman in a stuffed suit with a mop on her head, but the huffing, chuffing and political nonsense that dribbles out of his mouth is unmistakable. Saskia Solomon – part of the collective of alumni from LISPA performing in What Not Cabaret – does a good job as Mr Johnson, with his rolling, erudite, yet mumbling confusion. Why Boris Johnson? Not a clue. There wasn’t the commentary one tends to expect from a satirical send-up of a politician, although it was a little unclear if that was intentional. As George W. Bush was a gift to the Americans, Boris Johnson is a little present to British comedy writers, and there’s a lot more potential to his ludicrousness than was taken advantage of. When all is said and done, it provides an admittedly weird opener that subsequently proves to be the most sensical part of the show.
What Not Cabaret should perhaps consider a name change to the What the Fuck is Going On Cabaret; this may give the audience a clue as to what to expect from their 25 minute stint. But next up we’ve got Tiff Wear presenting “Pfft”. There’s not a lot of ways to describe a man inflating two balloons with pumps strapped to his feet. It was testament to Solomon’s warm-up that we were sufficiently tickled to find this amusing – that, or the audience was comprised of his relatives. I’d be interested to watch it cold. Weird.
I mean, who doesn’t love William Shatner’s albums? Am I right? Shatnerians will love Arkem Walton as The Cloud; he’s doing a spoken word version of Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” and it’s wonderful. The Cloud – Walton with an enormous cloud-shaped head and illuminated fingers – is incredibly disparaging of the digital content that he has to single handedly store. With a straight face stern enough to make Lord Sugar think twice, and a healthy dollop of topical fun (Kim Kardashian’s “Break the Internet” derriere, anyone?), The Cloud is very nearly thought provoking, but certainly entertaining.
If anything is missing from mainstream theatre, I’d venture to say it’s a man in a tutu covered in icing sugar. Of course, it’s a normal Wednesday evening for an arts crowd, but I don’t expect to see Domenico Trombetti’s untitled love story billed at the National any time soon. Their loss. With some precision mime and a well-placed red glove, Trombetti tells a love story between two hands that is extremely touching. It’s only when the hands disappear and your eyes readjust that you remember the man in the tutu and the icing sugar. Arguably, that’s what excellent puppetry is about; the puppeteer completely vanishes in the eye of the audience when two newly sentient beings interact and tell a story. There are companies whose puppeteers wear black and blend in with the background who don’t achieve that level of invisibility.
I appreciate anyone who gets under the skin of dating psychosis. It’s that feeling when you’ve been on a couple of really good dates with someone, but they don’t reply to your WhatsApp for 48 hours and in that time you descend into madness, eat nine takeaways and revenge-shag a Canadian. Then it turns out they left their charger at work and would you like to go for drinks on Wednesday? Oops.
For starters, Charmaine Wombwell as Scarlet Shambles is gorgeous in a luminescent, otherworldly kind of way. The sort of woman you could really imagine losing your shit over (see 48 hours of WhatsApp misery). And she’s singing with this husky voice and making ukulele playing look cool and she’s looking right at me and I’m wondering what we’d wear on our wedding day because I can’t imagine her looking more perfect than she does now and what on earth would we serve because she might be a vegetarian and I’m not so we’d have to have words about that and she’s wailing at me, crying out “It Used To Be Me” and she’s descended into the same psycho dating mess that I have, except she’s on stage and I’m a mad person in the audience. There’s certainly something hypnotic about her guttural screaming and crying, which is funny at first, then increasingly less so.
Boris Johnson returns and attempts to eat a biscuit balanced on his forehead and the spell is broken. The biscuit falls to the floor; the show is over. It’s clear that this LISPA collective has a lot to give. Walton and Wombwell could easily develop their pieces into half hour shows; delving a little more into The Cloud and Scarlet Shambles, respectively, would make for really thought-provoking theatre – not just a mashed up, 25-minute cornucopia of cabaret.