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Thursday, April 7, 2011


(My favourite character – Slinkyman!)

Don’t miss this if you are even remotely interested in imaginative physical theatre! (Review by Caroline Smart)

How does one begin to describe Mumenschanz, other than telling every living soul who is interested in physical theatre, theatre technology, lighting and all-embracing imaginative skills to see it while it’s in Durban?

The name Mummenschanz (roughly meaning masquerade) is German for mummery, or a play involving mummers (an Old-English term for a mime artist). Back in 1972 in Switzerland, Bernie Schürch and Andres Bossard along with Italian-American Floriana Frassetto formed their now celebrated visual theatre group and set out with a sense of fun and imagination to invent a new form of theatre - one that had a non-verbal theatrical language that would transcend the traditional barriers of language and culture.

With a track record of 35 years and performances in 60 countries, they have undeniably earned the title “revolutionary”. Their extraordinary use of versatile face masks, half-body or full body masks and three-dimensional masks cannot fail to impress. They have toured the USA, Canada, and South America, and enjoyed a three year run on Broadway. They also appeared as special guest stars on the last episode of the first season of The Muppet Show in November 1976.

In Durban as part of their current South African tour, Mummenschanz offers a magical, quirky and intriguing evening’s entertainment from the moment two giant white gloved hands appear through the gap in the curtains. From then on, prepare to be mesmerised with a fast-moving programme of sketches, each more captivating than the one before.

Light plays a major role in this production especially in items involving the twirling of ribbons. Sometimes we see nothing more than masks as the performers are dressed from head to toe in black and many of the sequences are no more than a minute long.

While I am tempted to describe each item, this would give the game away. Suffice it to say that there is much use of clever imagery involving fabric, air vent ducting – and even toilet paper. A young boy in front of us was in fits of laughter during a clever sketch involving a Blue Toilet Paper boy character and Pink Toilet Paper (girl). I dread to think of the impact on his household’s supply of toilet rolls when he goes home to experiment!

A highlight for me was a headless creature that ended up as a kind of Michelin Man – dropping and raising its waistline, before swaggering off. Give up trying to work out where the head starts and the feet begin – just accept the creative genius of the character for what it is. More delight came from two huge characters in air bags, rustling like taffeta, engaging a male/female interaction. Confident of her victory over him, the female flounces off, complete with waggling bottom!

The opening the second act was mesmeric with the appearance of a starfish-like creature which I initially thought was created by four people until I realised it was only one person with arm and leg extensions.

Expandable clay came into play quite often. In an extremely clever item, two characters try to outdo each other by altering their masks, eventually changing them into animal heads. Fabric was used to good effect - a simple sheet of white material forming facial expressions and a fandango style number where the performers were entirely encased in a metallic material. Created out of light fabric, giant cartoon faces turned inside out to create the same character depending on the performer’s movement direction.

The final surprise comes with the curtain call when audiences realise the size of the cast and crew. Then they take their hoods off … and another surprise awaits. I won’t give this away, other than to say to young dancers, acrobats and gymnasts –be prepared to be very impressed!

Mummenschanz runs in the Playhouse Opera until April 10 before it goes on to Johannesburg for the final leg of its tour. Performances from Wednesday to Saturday at 20h00 (Sunday at 15h00) with an extra matinee on Saturday at 14h30. Tickets from R149 to R299 booked at Computicket. For more info visit: – Caroline Smart