Familie Flӧz, Peacock Theatre

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by guest reviewer Rebecca Nice

German physical theatre company Teatro Delusio perform a silent comedy accompanied by an array of canonical scores from ballet to opera to a bit of pop. The international show that crosses language barriers through visual tableaus and expressive physicality of character is formed by a series of vignettes starring stock characters. Three performers play stage technicians and alternate to appear as stereotypical theatricals who they encounter backstage. There’s the one who always wants to sit and eat, the one who doesn’t want to be there and the one who’s always flexing his muscles can always be found in a technical team and this trio run the show, set entirely backstage, with haphazard efficiency and human agenda.

The performers wear masks with long noses and deep folds of skin, distorted into a caricature. They are heavy and trapped in an expressionless gaze that could be happy or sad or anything in between. This is where the true strength of the work emerges. Countless characters waltz through the wings; a blind, old conductor, a lost, late dancer, 17th Century opera singers, a troubled director, a fashion obsessed costume manager, a chorus of ballet dancers, a cleaner. Each character wears a heavy mask whose expression magically changes through the audience’s reading of the fine gestural nuances and embodiment of gender, emotion and occupation that Teatro Delusio choreograph.

A ballet instructor donning a blue leotard places one ballerina after another in the right position before shoving them on stage. He finds time to flirt with the technician as they accidentally touch while the waif and stray ballet dancer panics with a head dress, goes on late and comes off injured. The play on gender of a clumsy male body pretending to cauru in a tutu, bashfully capturing the stagehand’s heart to Tchaikovsky’s ‘Dance of the Signets’ works well in terms of pace and humour.

The focus lies on the interaction between technician and star and the narratives that can be drawn from a meeting of the two characters rather than the relationship between stage hand and set, lights and what it means to work on a show. Missed opportunities with lighting and shadow play in the wings from the action on stage and lack of chaotic scene changes make a piece about the backstage life of a show that lacks the very mechanics of how one works.

A dramatic twist where the male technician suddenly gives birth to two babies and murders the director who takes his children and lover opera singer off to live happily ever after, sits at odds within an otherwise straight-forward and lighthearted series of sketches. It is the little people that we meet and their poignant moments with each other through passing a prop or practicing a stage entry that win the audiences’ hearts and fill this work with charm, and just about carry us through the indulgent length.

Familie Flӧz lets itself down with a long build up to each scene, and countless moments of walking and pausing that are not essential to the narrative or timing of the joke. The style of vignettes can be fast passed and rhythmic, which it is in places such as the Swan Lake scene. The love struck technicians and haughty stage characters are a barrel of laughs and the auditorium chuckles and giggles at the great content which is dissipated by the elongated length of the show.

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