You probably haven’t seen a lot of mime, no one’s seen a lot of mime. But if that’s because you think mime is boring, then Trygve Wakenshaw – the brains, brawn and beauty behind mime act Nautilus – would write you off as the sort of person who enjoys stand-up comedians who ‘make fun of airplane food, small towns without ever going there, make broad generalisations about women, and swear for a guaranteed laugh’ (Wakenshaw, ‘Programme Notes’, 2016). After seeing the inquisitive, self-referential and really, really funny Nautilus, I would too.
Performed as part of the London International Mime Festival 2016, Nautilus follows on from Squidboy and the much loved Kraken to complete Wakenshaw’s sea creature trilogy. The third instalment does not disappoint; Nautilus is a hilarious, silly and inspired physical exploration of what it means to have no voice. Wakenshaw’s case studies are eclectic, and mostly animal. Expect cows and chickens who know the importance of consent, ignored air hostesses and put upon fairytale heroines. Wakenshaw transforms himself into this array of characters with impossible ease and an awkward grace, and as he does so he gives each marginalised voice – human or otherwise – their time in the spotlight. What’s more, he makes mime seem like the most obvious form in which to make his point.
For me, the highlight of the show (look away now if you’re anti-spoilers) is a two-part lipsynching extravaganza to Aretha Franklin’s ‘You Make Me Feel’, performed first as Franklin and then again a few sketches later as one of her sidelined backing dancers (think: 2013 film Twenty Feet From Stardom). The conceit reveals itself slowly but when the penny finally drops, it is excellent. The lipsynching itself is Oscar-worthy, but it’s the delay between scenes and the way Wakenshaw flits between perspectives, playing both the big personalities and the little ones, that reveals his comedic and narrative talent.
Indeed, there are two sides, probably more, to every story and yet only one man and his, admittedly long, limbs to tell them. The duality of the production is of course intentional. Rather than shy away from the boundaries of the form, Wakenshaw confronts them head on using nothing but his physical ingenuity, a few soundbites and, in the clever finale, a coke can. In short, Nautilus is a triumph of form, timing and recurring jokes. I could go on, but I would only ruin the magic.