The hand of Ben Duke, of Lost Dog fame, is clearly evident in Barely Methodical Troupe’s show KIN, its contribution to this year’s London International Mime Festival. Duke is the director and one of the devisers of this deceptively low-key hour-long show, first performed at the Roundhouse in 2016, which blends circus skills with offbeat humour and a gently strange narrative arc.
Five performers wearing numbers on their tracksuit bottoms try to impress a coldly imperious, clipboard-wielding woman (Nikki Rummer). A King Lear reading, battle raps, accordion playing: all earn them a dismissive blast of a Britain’s Got Talent-like red buzzer. They seem to be the final five in an arduous audition process – but what is the prize role they’re after? Who is the mysterious man whose Godot-like absence hangs over the group? And why are they all so obsessed with a banana?
There aren’t many answers in KIN, but that’s not the point – it’s all a playful frame for the six-strong group’s circus and acrobatic skills.
There is slapstick brawling and cartoon-like staged violence as the contestants vie for position, then as the stakes rise and the group dynamics start to writhe and twist, the risks these immensely talented performers take increase. The hand-to-hand work makes you fear for their skulls as heads are trodden on left, right and centre. Fiona Thornhill is masterly on the Cyr wheel, and with Ronan Jenkinson executes a beautiful Cyr duet. A group teeterboard routine to Edith Piaf’s Non, je ne regrette rien is absolutely exhilarating theatre (the music choices throughout are spot-on). And as the isolated group dig deeper into their hopes and fears, and the announcement of the Chosen One among the five assumes a quasi-mystical significance, Duke and co subtly show, through physical action as much as words, how we all fail if we don’t help each other.