Mime & let mime

imageJohn Jacobs studied with Marcel Marceau for many years. He lauds technique above all and at the beginning of the show tells us that only a handful of people in the world can do what we’re now lucky enough to behold.

He is likeable. And charms whilst chatting to the mime enthusiasts in the front. He puts everyone at ease, says we “must have fun”, and jokingly reprimands the latecomers.

Jacobs is a highly accomplished mime artist. He says so himself. And he shows us how messy mime is done versus correct technique, so that we know the difference. I recognise the ‘ladder climbing’ and ‘rope pulling’ our postgrad drama class messily attempted under the skillful tutorship of Andrew Buckland many a year ago. Mime is not easy to do! So I give sincere praise to anyone who can gesture another world into reality – it is amazing.

Jacobs’ repertoire of sketches shows off his decades of training in France. Included are some Marceau classics, e.g. “The Maskmaker”, and a number of original creations from Jacobs.

I doubt there were many dry eyes left after “The Soldier”. Without a word uttered he portrays a soldier’s time in the trenches, the effects of violence on the mind and body, intimate moments of loneliness and loss, and a life of heartache. I see eyes dabbed all about me.

Many eyes were wet, with laughter this time during the “Woman Getting Dressed” and “Man Getting Into Shower” – completely stereotyped and caricatured, had the row behind me exclaiming “Ja it’s true!” amidst howls of laughter.

The rest of the repertoire had the crowd (big for what I’ve seen in the Jubilee Hall so far this fringe) alternately laughing along or deeply invested. Because Jacobs appears to bare his soul – in and out of the sketches. It draws one in.

But… There’s a but.

Each sketch is introduced and some with a brief explanation of what they’re ‘about’. With mime’s impact being that (skillfully done) we can use our imaginations to see what’s going on, the sketches should stand strong alone. Otherwise we’re being guided in how to feel, depending on the piece’s ‘story’.

It occurred to me later that Jacobs’  beginning speech seemed to declare classical technique superiority over others who perform/use mime in South Africa. It’s alright to think that but declaring it as part of a show comes across as, well, superior.

South Africa has sensational mime artists and artists who use mime within their work, who have practiced in SA for some years and/or for decades… the aforementioned Buckland, Craig Morris, Richard Antrobus, and Daniel Buckland (think Sylvaine Strike’s The God Complex), to name a select few.

Contemporary SA theatre does that. Styles and genres are blended. Boundaries are blurred. It’s interesting and interrogative, often. And keeps things fresh.

So for the mime purists, and those who like to appreciate many genres within the arts, District 6 to Paris is a wonderful display of technical skill in classical pantomime. John Jacobs is keeping alive Marcel Marceau’s teachings. Which is important and interesting.

I have no doubt that many audience members are going to love the show. As long as they don’t leave thinking one arts way is better than another. As in all the professional arts, training is imperative. We know good or bad singing… But it’s the listener’s choice to prefer remixes or covers. That’s the beauty of the arts – personal taste!

 – Sarah Roberson

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