#3 VU

Mime ( Circus, Theatre ) Council Chamber, Shoreditch Town Hall

One man on a neurotic mission to prepare a cup of tea. Small-scale object theatre, classic mime with dark and light circus flavours from French company Sacekripa, delivered by Etienne Manceau.

VU is a humorous portrait of mental breakdown, one man's quest to make a cuppa following a most particular, insightfully warped process. A salaryman returns home to what is typically a relaxing environment and activity, but soon the process disintegrates and almost gets the better of him.

Manceau builds his portrayal around small gestures, and alternates between tricks prepared beforehand and keen observations of audience reaction. All done from his tiny pulpit center stage. The pacing is relaxed, but Manceau has the show reasonably well in hand. An unplanned detour in the middle of this particular show leads us on a prolonged tangent, as a trick literally backfires. Fortunately our man keeps his cool and boldly steers the show back on track.

VU is a story of extremes and precision, but doesn't quite feel as sharp as the edges of knives and desks lead us to expect. His well-humoured comic gesturing channels classic mime acts, and yet Mr. Bean is the obvious comparison with his tiny world of one.

Like Mr. Bean, Manceau's man is acutely aware of being watched. Here in VU, with a live audience, the fourth wall is obliterated by repeated calls for assistance. Never have I seen the walls brought down to a point where an audience member goes backstage on an assignment. The poor helper chap turned out to be a real trooper, winning many easy laughs from the audience.

Where Mr. Bean is a harmless man, VU shows us a dangerous man. We have fire and fury on display, we move from hilarity to fear in a heartbeat, a disturbing dynamic that reoccurs several times. Playing with expectation of pain comes off visceral, and mostly gratuitous. The audience is captured not with a thrill, but through discomfort.

In the QA that followed, Manceau explained that he started from the desire to play, and built the show from a few visual jokes, seen early on in the show. Objects followed one another as the theme developed. The arc aims to capture the everyday, the real. As the tricks land or fail, the show follows them: the rhythm is found anew each night.

Manceau offered that circus is all about risk and the difference between what is shown and what the risk actually is. Which maybe explains the playing with expectation, humorous and painful, as well as the dynamic nature of the show. The show must go on, even if tricks go south.

Overall, neither VU or Manceau explain the neurotic dark mood of the main man. We laugh at the visual jokes and tricks, and shiver at the sight of trauma, but the meaning of it all is left wide open. It's a bit too much to ask here.

VU has great moments, well worth the build up, though many of them are easy to see coming in advance. In total there's not quite enough show here, the grand total feels stretched. The show feels a bit plain, like a lukewarm beverage.

With a more nuanced exploration of the humour and darkness of neurosis, there could have been something memorable here. As is, VU is a bit peculiar, but ultimately forgettable. See it to gain a humorous view of a strange man and his tea ceremony.