Trygve Wakenshaw: Nautilus | Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Soho Theatre

Trygve Wakenshaw: Nautilus

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Soho Theatre

The resurgence of physical comedy was given another boost last August when Trygve Wakenshaw picked up an Edinburgh Comedy Award for this ambitious 90-minute show. Sensibly pared back to a tighter 75, it now arrives at Soho Theatre for a run as part of the London International Mime Festival.

Sporting the dyed blond hair and shiny silver-grey suit of a Duran Duran tribute band, the gangly Kiwi is not strictly a mime, uttering the occasional word for clarity, but of such simple vocabulary you probably don’t need to speak English to understand, and even a full sentence now and again.

However he primarily uses exaggerated contortions of his face and body to communicate. transforming himself into characters both human and not. The transformations are convincing from another Gaulier clown school graduate who knows his craft inside-out.

But it’s not just in speaking that he breaks the rules of mime. There’s a wonderfully inventive finale in which he plays with the artifice of his craft, which might sound a bit highfalutin, but the collision of the real word with his make-believe is as funny as it is original.

Most the show, however, is not so high concept. A majority could almost be Warner Bros cartoon scenes acted out, as he becomes a cow, cat or chicken – the latter in a bid to determine the age-old question of why the poultry traversed the highway. And he has he second best dinosaur impression in comedy (Hugh Dennis still hold that crown).

As the best animated shorts have a streak of dark, violent humour, so too does Wakenshaw, with sicker moments causing the audience to squirm in mock revulsion. But normally only at things we actually do to our fellow creatures – eat them or steal their coats, for instance – his message being that if they could speak, ‘no’ would mean ‘no’.

Away from the anthropomorphised animals, there are human characters too, from an air stewardess to an Aretha Franklin backing singer; a saloon bar owner to Jesus. Even a silent stand-up, funnier than many of the spoken sort.

The balance isn’t quite right between explaining what he’s doing and leaving the audience to get the reward of figuring it out for themselves. Sometimes you can see a joke coming and have to wait for it to play out – other times you are playing catch-up to work out what the scene is. That said, he nicely exploits that at one point by going backa to explain something that only a very small minority picked up on first time around.

Nautilus hasn’t got the gleeful audience participation of his previous critically acclaimed offering, Kraken, nor any scene quite so memorable as the look of shock on a hatchling’s face when he realised just how his dinner was to be delivered. Instead it builds more purposefully, with callbacks and repeated motifs making it seem a more substantial show.

Mime may not yet be in the mainstream, but Wakenshaw’s offbeat talents offer plenty to delight.

Review date: 14 Jan 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Soho Theatre

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