It cannot usefully be called "mime" or "clowning", and the term "visual theatre" may misleadingly suggest spectacle rather than sight-gags. Whatever it is, though, this strain of comedy has become a more and more abundant crop, with several worthwhile blooms in evidence on this year's Fringe.
The Spanish company Yllana, in Glub Glub! (Gilded Balloon, venue 38) are closest to all-out mime, relying on minimal props, minimal verbals (and those mainly nonsense) and a lot of highly skilled shape-throwing. The show contains some inspired moments, but much of the business seems a bit too easy, and the "theme" of sailors and the sea hangs loosely upon the sketches without imposing any sense of narrative.
The latter problem also affects Peepolykus, only more so. I Am A Coffee (Pleasance, venue 33) shows every sign of having a "plot" simply shucked onto a string of sketches; the convoluted story of a time-travelling postman being abducted by a pair of fishmongers whilst trying to deliver a postcard to the Pope is not exactly coherent. Peepolykus are immensely cheerful, but – especially when trying out new material – sometimes fall prey to the trap of responding too much to each other and not enough to the audience.
Hoipolloi mine a gentler vein in their Dead On The Ground (Pleasance), the story of a man snatched prematurely by his supervising angel and their subsequent attempts to conceal this administrative cock-up from the heavenly big cheese. The company have made a positive decision to work in a particular mood and do it well, but the frenzy of Edinburgh does nothing to alleviate a niggling "so what?" feeling.
Rejects Revenge have been gaining in stature over the last couple of years, and Dusty Fruit (Pleasance) lives up to all expectations. Wordier and less frenetic than their more recent shows, the tale of a pair of incompetent removal men attempting to strip a haunted house before it crumbles over a cliff provides plenty of fine opportunities for both verbal and visual humour. The trio of Rejects exude an air of Englishness at its most appealing, of cricket on the green and amiable twitdom, and currently occupy the silver medallists' podium in the visual comedy field.
The unchallenged laureates of the form, though, remain The Right Size. In 1995, Stop Calling Me Vernon was one of the hottest comedy tickets of the Fringe, and with Do You Come Here Often? (Stella Artois Assembly, venue 3) they have surpassed themselves. Basing their story allegedly either on a true incident of being trapped in a bathroomor on the ordeal of John McCarthy and Brian Keenan, performers Hamish McColl (the knowing, neurotic, daft one) and Sean Foley (the innocent, bemused and even dafter one) generate an hour and a quarter of simply glorious business with comedy beards, a mobile toilet bowl and competing addresses to the audience, who laugh so long and hard that inevitably they are often still guffawing when the next gag comes along. This is not so much The Right Size's breakthrough as their apotheosis. The remainder of the show's Edinburgh run seems already to be sold out; if so, sell a kidney for the wherewithal to bribe the front-of-house staff to admit you.
Even classical music has begun to take on board the visual-comedy form. At the Traverse (venue 15), the gogmagogs gigagain features a string septet playing works ranging from Mike Westbrook to Palestinian Said Murad whilst impersonating a cinema audience, a Day of the Dead celebration or even (in darkness, their bows picked out by ultraviolet light) a school of fish. They still seem more of a novelty act than a full show in their own right, but are gaining in assurance all the time and occasionally capable of astonishment. Now, put them in a shower cubicle with The Right Size...
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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