Jeremy Malies in Edinburgh
11 August 2023
***** Five-star review
If there is a show in Edinburgh that has more to say than this one about what it means to be human I’d be surprised. The piece will surely have the most appeal to the widest range of age and background across the city.
Photo credit: Svend Andersen.
Mime has never been my bag though it is always on my festival schedules often out of a sense of duty and a desire to touch many bases. I have seen too much mime that is a sequence of set pieces. This wonderful show has made me think about the form in a new way though I am unlikely to come across anything of such quality, originality, and integrity for a long time. The difference is that this is mime with a sustained linear narrative.
Actors (part of the fun is working out how many there are) wear heavy masks of a kind you would usually associate with a puppet and they give us up to ten characters in total.
The main figures are an angst-ridden married couple in old age who initially bicker in a way that is amusing for its familiarity and playfulness. The husband is typing a manuscript in a maniacal manner. The clattering of the keys forms a counterpoint to the woman’s eerie cello playing and when sound-bleed from an adjacent venue came in there was operatic music floating over the pair in one of the happy coincidences you can get at Edinburgh. But it is obvious that the woman is in terminal decline and the only pattern to her thoughts lies in the music she is playing.
It is not too much of a spoiler to say that the thrust of the piece tackles dementia. One partner begins looking after the other with a tenderness and stoicism that (again this is a competitive field across 3,739 shows) may well reduce more people to tears than anything else on the festival programme.
But this is far from gloomy. We see two successful courtships involving the couple’s sons followed by childbirth and the creation of loving relationships. And the old man’s typed manuscript becomes an impressive book in which he takes great pride. Back to the universality of the play: not a word is spoken throughout and everything is in gesture which put me in mind of the Lecoq Method though principal company members have in fact trained at the the Royal School of Dramatic Art in Madrid.
Being in Edinburgh with friends who have five young children, I asked the lighting desk operator what he thought would be the minimum appropriate age. He replied “five” and said that his daughter had come to the show at this age. We had our conversation in my pidgin Spanish — the company are from the Basque Country — but the engineer and I could just have easily been communicating with scribbles in Cretan hieroglyphs or cuneiform so international, timeless and divorced from language is the piece.
And yet it is full of familiar figures including a bolshie Amazon courier who featured in my favourite scene. When the already deranged mother instinctively adjusted her son’s clothing against the weather I began sobbing fit to beat the band. Being a cold fish, I was way behind most of those around me. André and Dorine is not as tricksy in terms of perspective since matters are laid out simply for us but the best comparison I can make is with Florian Zeller’s The Father though with more archetypal figures.
Clearly this is visual humour; not a word is uttered though you can hear what is being said in your mind’s ear in whatever language you speak. The very texture of the experiences is there for us. It may be visual but not a single gag relies on slapstick. This is a disciplined project with rigour that could easily be mannered but isn’t. André and Dorine is creasingly funny and yet profound. Its spell is still over me.