Monday 18 August 2008

The Idiots Return

Some acts on the Fringe have a loyal following and the Village Idiots are certainly one of them. So much so, indeed, that last year when a customer was caught out, having expected them in week two rather than week three, they requested to know when they'd be here this year so they could plan their trip accordingly.

And with good reason. There isn't a huge amount of mask theatre about, but after seeing the Idiots you may think more's the pity. The masks are wonderful and impressively expressive. Indeed, it is amazing just how much can be conveyed with a simple glance or nod of the head. It is a different kind of acting, with so much more having to be conveyed through body language and the idiots are excellent in this regard.

This year's production Filch and Blunder tells the story of two eponymous minor criminals, of the not especially competent variety, who after various attempts (including hilariously with salad tongs) manage to steal old lady Vera's (Penny Ash) handbag. Having discovered her husband's ashes within, Blunder (Charles Ash) is wracked with gilt and they resolve to return it. The play then follows their slightly convoluted attempts to do this.

There is no spoken dialogue at all, and so it makes an interesting contrast to last year's effort Small Medium at Large which had a fair amount (though in that too, none of the masked characters spoke). That show had a lot of nice gags in the dialogue (particularly Johna Ash's mobile phone conversations). But even without words, there is still a wonderful range of comedy: from the groan-worthy pun of chiropodist B. Lister, that wouldn't be out of place in I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, to the innuendo of Blunder glancing at his watch after Filch (Jack Read) has returned from a very brief tryst with Blonde Girl (Michelle Baxter). There is also plenty of slapstick and physical comedy giving Read and Ash the opportunity to display superb comic timing as the leads.

It isn't entirely without words: there is the odd sign displayed, such as "back in five minutes", but always to great comic effect. Well chosen music provides a backdrop to the action and we never feel the story needs more explanation. It is also a gentler kind of comedy, the very funny none the less, and doesn't descend into the nastiness or profanity that some depend upon. At times poignant and yet with a nice twist at the end that will surely put a smile on your face.

This year also finds the company at something of a transition, being an assembly of people who've been in various of their productions over the years and are now looking to strike out on their own. The work they have done is creditable: from fliers that look a lot better than many professional efforts to a clever and intricate set. The set, while not quite as wowing as Plested and Brown, none the less delights as doors open to become the M&S returns counter or a booth at the chiropodist and bus stop signs appear and vanish.

That said, they have missed the keen oversight of director Amanda Wilsher whose notes after every show last year led to a tighter overall performance. There was too, on the performance I attended, the odd missed sound cue. But none of that precludes a must see recommendation.

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