A mere sheet in suspension is the only prop on stage, rather daring for a mime show – particularly one set in the fictional country of Orgislavia, where the two mime artists Ünkel and Gårf hail from – but that risk taken by director Agnes Pethers pays off. A buzzy crowd fills this intimate theatre space and the first scene bursts with unpredictable energy. Miming the switching of records on a record player, with Gårf insisting on playing cheesy hits from the likes of S Club 7 and Ünkel always reverting to Hurt by Johnny Cash, the opening scene showcases Tommy Hurst and Matt Kenyon’s deft ease with mime and comedic timing. Though we can’t even begin to know where the show will take us, their connection to the audience creates an atmosphere of ease, an instant beckoning for us to share in the randomly wonderful twists and turns of the show.
ÜnkelGårf follows the journey of mime artists struggling to find a sustainable image and voice (if you pardon the ironic pun) for their act, made increasingly more difficult due to the stiff competition of Premier Petrev’s (the dictator of Orgislavia, I believe, portrayed by Ali Muminoglu) rising mime darlings, ‘Gimp und Phat’ (played by Angus Moore and Frankie Taylor). We’re introduced to the bizarreness of Petrev, Gimp and Phat through old-style movie clips projected onto the white sheet on stage. Petrev’s peculiar oddities – such as riding humans instead of horses – paired with the latex gimp-suit wearing of Gimp and Phat, made for a completely unexpected, but weirdly welcomed, addition to the show. I think that encapsulates much of my feelings about ÜnkelGårf – the idea that not one part of the show is even mildly predictable (and makes you wish you could have been in the writing room, or pub, when Tommy and Matt created this universe, for the whole thing feels like some strange yet deeply entertaining dream), and that’s the inherent beauty behind this creation.
It’s also worth noting that the lighting and technicalities of this production were particularly impressive, not least because of how demanding the sound is for a mime show to be perfectly executed (which Kav Crossley pulled off), but also for the added texture it brought to it all. Standing behind an elevated and clearly visible lighting booth, producer Jasmine White and director Agnes Pethers are very much part of the show.
Ünkel and Gårf shone in their moments of mime, for their camaraderie was palpable and their mimes completely wacky and divergent from the classical tropes we know and love. There was not a glass box or happy-face-sad-face in sight. My wish would be for there to be even more mime throughout the show, and a bit less chat here and there, because these moments were by far and away the cheekiest and most fun parts. Though the plot is thin in parts and a tad confusing, suspending all your traditional expectations of theatre is the key to enjoying this show. Embracing its eccentricity and intensely unique peculiarity is the whole fun of ÜnkelGårf, and something all should experience. If you’re in need of some wonderfully weird comedy, make sure you get down to the Burton Taylor Studio this week.