Review: Trygve Wakenshaw

An awesome perk of my new job is that I get to go to other gigs to promote the festival. This is how I wangled tickets to see improbably named New Zealander Trygve Wakenshaw at the Salisbury playhouse last night, having become an instant fan after seeing his show Kraken at the Edinburgh Fringe. As you’ll probably gather from the following, I remain a fan. 

People don’t like mime. It’s not considered cool, or even that entertaining. We expect, at best, to be mildly impressed by the fact it looks Quite Difficult, but basically it’s just a bit rubbish. Right? RIGHT?

Wrong, wrong. It’s hard to express just how entertaining this guy is without dragging you along to a show, because the words “surreal physical comedy” are overused and a bit meaningless out of context. “Mimeception” might be a better description, because throughout Nautilus, Trygve Wakenshaw acknowledges the niche art form he’s chosen. The layers of tongue-in-cheek self-awareness are many and enjoyable, particularly in a skit where he plays an unsuccessful standup who derides the name and profession (coincidentally, Trygve Wakenshaw, mime artist) of a very reluctant audience volunteer, played simultaneously by himself.

The obvious thing to be impressed by in Nautilus is its sheer physicality. There’s the odd bit of speech, but the communication is done overwhelmingly through Wakenshaw’s unnervingly customisable frame and facial features. He contorts himself effortlessly into everything from a jellyfish to Jesus, passing through an utterly believable velociraptor  along the way. I’m not sure humans should really bend that far or in those directions, but theatrically, it works astonishingly well. It’s hard to believe that the props and special effects are imaginary when you find yourself wincing at a piece of realistic, gory violence that’s completely invisible.

But it’s not just about the mime, an art form I’m sure I can’t fully understand or appreciate (given my total lack of expertise and flexibility). The real deal-maker is Wakenshaw’s assured and novel comedic talent. He splits the audience’s sides with surgical precision, dropping visual punchlines like hand grenades, then sprinting off on a tangent before they’ve even hit the floor. The show is as intricately structured as the best of stand-up routines; deeply unpredictable and yet flawlessly linked, with repeated concepts and characters that come back to bite the audience with a vengeance. We’re reminded of the raw comedic ability that’s at work in Nautilus during the rare moments which rely not on bodily contortions, but simply on intense and prolonged eye-contact with an audience member, or a perfectly timed awkward shuffle.

I’ve seen Wakenshaw before, at the Edinburgh Fringe. That show (Kraken) entirely blew my tiny mind, partly because I’d literally never seen anything like it before. Nautilus, while a little less interactive and exuberant (and less NSFW!) than Kraken, was probably equally brilliant on an objective level, but I could already feel myself taking for granted the total suspension of disbelief required for the show to work at all. To be honest, that sums up my main reservation about Wakenshaw’s work. I’m worried that if I regularly watch things that are this conceptually original and physically striking, I’ll rapidly lose the capacity to be impressed. Small price to pay, I suppose.

tl;dr: Highly, highly recommended.

Expect a few more reviews of the shows I’m going to over the coming weeks. They’ll probably be a bit shorter, although I kind of hope I continue to have reason to be effusively wordy! 


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