/ Review / Writing: Journalism

Tumbledown house: Hans was Heiri (MimeLondon) at the Barbican Centre (***)

Zimmermann & de Perrot have been making inventive physical theatre/dance pieces since 2006, and they’ve been featured at the London International Mime Festival since then. Their latest, Hans was Heiri, is mostly nonsensical while being very impressively staged, and has an odd emotional impact. At the Barbican Centre.

Of all of the London International Mime Festival shows this year, Zimmermann & de Perrot’s new show has received an extraordinary amount of attention due to their very photogenic rotating structure – a square of four rooms which spends much of Hans was Heiri spinning around and being interacted with by the company of performers. And what they do with it is impressive, but there’s more to the show than that.

The piece starts with de Perrot DJing – mixing together the noise of a crowd and various electronica, which creates the soundscape for the entire piece, he is occasionally joined by the cast yodelling (nope, not joking). Later the cast then appear in various semi-puppeteered guises – of themselves – using hands as feet or frames hanging from their necks. They then disappear and reappear through various door frames and behind free-standing black frames, until they all enter the rotating structure, at which point performers appear and reappear in front and inside for a number of set pieces.

I should preface this by saying that I couldn’t see much rhyme or reason to anything the company were doing. There didn’t seem to be a plot or a story arc – just a collection of vignettes that utilise the company’s physical skills. After an hour and a half, I was worried some of them would simply be too tired to continue – it’s an impressive show of stamina, if nothing else. And even if there seems to be no story to follow, there are too many remarkable moments to name that left me in constant awe: from elaborate tumbling through the rotating rooms to the point when they start climbing around the outside of the structure, it’s a lovely collection of moments.

Although I couldn’t deduce a plot, there is a loose sense that these moments connect. Character seems to be static, with performers playing stereotypes, but I’d be hard-pressed to define any of them too rigorously. What does come across is a general search for meaning – characters often can’t achieve simple classic tasks (for example, when a character spends 10 minutes tumbling around and over a chair as he tries to sit down), or looking for common ground (sharing moments or copying moves), which ties in with their programme-stated goal of asking whether our attempts to be individuals causes life to fail.

Although I still couldn’t tell you for sure – the show remains a pleasant enigma to me. It’s a remarkable spectacle and beautifully complex and detailed, but doesn’t seem to mean anything in particular – just reflect life through physical movement, which is exactly what this festival is geared towards. Many will find this frustrating and impenetrable, but I think that’s also half the point. At worst, you’ll enjoy the circus skills – at best, you’ll walk away pondering.


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