Urban Shadows (FringeTIX)
Jean-Paul Bell @ Bosco Theater
11:00pm, Tue 6 Mar 2007
“A unique one person mimeo drama,” quoth the Guide, “…follows the wonderings of an outcast on the fringe of society, who is a resilient survivor conjuring up his own world of ritual, joy and romance.”
That’s quite a mouthful. And quite intriguing – assuming “mimeo” infers “mime” (which Google and Wikipedia suggests it should not), this would place great weight on the performer’s ability to communicate effectively sans voice.
And Jean-Paul Bell manages very well.
The house lights drop, a spotlight hits the centre of the stage. Accompanied by a simple double-bass backing, a disheveled man drags a cart onstage; his every movement painful and constrained by weariness and weight. His face is disfigured by the string that is wrapped around and around his head – he is grotesque, pitifully wheezing as he marks out territory around the cart by sprinkling a ring of powder. Slowly, he begins to unpack the contents of the cart; removing his scruffy coat, revealing a much more dignified jacket beneath, seems to lighten his mood. He plays with a wooden fish, he unwraps the string from his head (leaving taut marks on his face), he sets up a folding table.
Unpacking his cutlery from the cart, he sets places at the table for two; initially, the correct orientation of the knife and fork at the settings causes confusion – is this the reaction against societal norms? He unpacks his love, the head-and-torso statue of a woman, dines with her, watches a movie, his love for her ever more apparent. Eventually, they retire to bed in the cart, the performance punctuated with a cheeky flourish as he leaves the milk-bottle out.
Now – I’ve just read that back, and it sounds dull as dishwater. And, essentially, it would be, were it not for the stunning performance by Bell. Mute throughout, save a couple of painful snufflings as he initially appears onstage, he still manages to cajole the character – believably – from complete demoralisation to blissful contentment. The audience are initially oppressed by the hopelessness of this downtrodden man, but we leave utterly joyous.
Two short notes: when doing a little research, I discovered that Jean-Paul Bell has a loooooong history of TV and clowning, with a background in mime – I even remembered him from The Big Gig all those years ago. By all means, read JP’s bio that I linked above – it’s inspiring stuff.
The other snippet: this show was the second in a row for me in the Bosco. And the seating in the Bosco is, let’s face it, fucking shit. A completely numb arse is not what I look for in an evening out Fringing.