MIMES (Most Imbecilic Mime Ensemble Show) is the UK debut show of new company The Three Dots, and it’s due to play at Etcetera Theatre from 16th – 20th August as part of the Camden Fringe (you can get your tickets here ). I recently had a chat with Samuel Toye about training in Italy, the universal language of mime and the company’s UK debut performance – here’s what he had to say…
Who are the cast of MIMES and how did the company come together?
We are Mauro Groppo from Turin, Paolo Scaglia, who is from Milan and my name is Samuel Toye, and I’m from Camberley in Surrey. So we’re made up of two Italian guys and myself, an English guy. We have trained together in a physical theatre school which is based in Turin; the school is called Atelier Teatro Fisico di Philip Radice. It’s a Le Coq based theatre school, with the focus based on comedy, visual comedy and creating your own work, so it’s a school of creation, which I believe is the direction the Le Coq school goes towards as well. Mauro and Paolo are in the fourth year, and I’m only in the first year at the moment because I’ve trained before and I’ve gone back into training. They were made up already as a company already, of three Italian guys and one of them left – lucky for me! So it’s been a good experience and it’s a great school so it was nice to come together with these guys.
Where did the company name, The Three Dots, come from? Was it pre-existing from the original group?
No, no, it wasn’t actually – so basically Mauro and Paolo had a couple of scenes from the play before which they were performing in cabarets around Turin and Milan. Then I joined and straight away I said come on, let’s do something with this – so I suggested that we do Camden Fringe. So we’re filling in the form and we have to have a company name, so it came about as we were doing our registration for the fringe, when we had to enter our company name. We thought ‘okay, a company name, here we go!’ And…we sat there for hours and hours! Also, Mauro speaks English, but Paolo doesn’t, so a lot of the process bas been quite long in that sense because we’re always having to translate everything. Paolo was suggesting names in Italian and Mauro’s translating – I was suggesting names in English…basically, after hours, we couldn’t think of anything so we thought right, we’ll come back to it, and put dot dot dot – we’ll come back to it later.
Ah, the three dots!
Yeah, so we did the registration and a few hours later, we thought right – company name, company name…hey, dot dot dot? That’s quite cool – The Three Dots, yeah let’s go with that! It doesn’t sum up who we are; we’re not indecisive people, but we like the fact that we can leave it open – dot dot dot? Okay, whatever! It’s very Italian actually!
Mime seems to be so rare now, what drew you to it?
Well a big part of the Le Coq training, or at least the first year of the Le Coq School is the twenty movements of Le Coq; some are acrobatic, some are more abstract, but a lot if them are mime so I think when you do a Le Coq training, you can’t ignore the fact that you’ll be training in mime. For me, this has been the first time I’ve been training in mime as a style, but the training I came from before was world theatre; I trained at the East15 Acting School with a BA in World Theatre. It’s quite sort of broad and general but the reason I’m saying this is I trained a lot in Balinese and Indian Dance-Drama and a lot of that is physical language. It’s all storytelling with the body, with the hands, without using verbal language. So I’ve been interested in this for a few years and I can’t avoid the fact or ignore that for a long time in my life I’ve liked Charlie Chaplain, Buster Keaton – even Mr Bean – it’s amazing because these guys, these performers from this era, they can be seen all around the world, and why is that? Because it’s physical, and that is really what inspires me and draws me to mime because you don’t need language – or verbal language – to communicate with people.
Especially for me, with my experience of living in Italy – I mean, I can speak Italian now, but at the start I couldn’t so how could I communicate? Well, through the body – through had gestures, and you get by, you can survive. So yeah, I like this – I like the fact that you can perform anywhere around the world, you can connect with people without using verbal language. Marcel Marceau says ‘mime can be a bridge between people, and words can destroy them’ – I love that, it’s a nice idea to be able to connect with people without having to ramble on. I believe mime was very popular in the seventies actually, and it’s coming back, with people like The Umbilical Brothers, The Boy With Tape on His Face, Gamarjobat – and that’s mime, but because they don’t have the white faces, people don’t necessarily know that it’s mime. It’s amazing, it’s a wonderful thing.
Is your show a modern take on mime acts or does it follow the laws of old more strictly?
I suppose it’s modern in the context; the context and setting are modern but the style we’re using is the traditional pantomime. You know, this may sound ignorant but until I went to Italy and started training in mime, I didn’t realise – in the UK, we have pantomime, the style of theatre used at Christmastime, but actually the mime that you see with the Marcel Marceau, the white face – that’s called pantomime. And that is the style we’re using but we’re parodying that. Within the play, we’re commenting on – I don’t want to say how silly it is – but the stylised movements that you have in mime, and we’re kind of making a joke about that, which I hope and believe will make it accessible for the modern audience because we’re not saying ‘oh we’re traditional pantomime’ – we’re using that – but we’re parodying it, so you can laugh with us.
We have two characters, one played by me, and one played by Paolo Scaglia, and we are the representation of the traditional pantomime; we are the white faced mimes you might see in the streets of Paris who are, I suppose, quite annoying, who do the walk, who do the rope… and then you have Mauro, who is playing the character that looks at these guys and thinks what are you doing? This is ridiculous, how can you live like this? Because the world that we exist in, is the world of mime, so everything you do is mime; you eat using mime, you drink using mime, you sleep using mime and Mauro’s character kind of looks at this and thinks this is ridiculous – so he is the connection with the audience. The audience can relate with his character – and I don’t want to reveal too much, but there’s a surprise half way through the play where Mauro will speak as well, and it’s shocking, so we shun him you know, ‘get away – you can’t do this, you’re breaking the golden rule’ – and hopefully at this moment in the play, the audience can also think well actually, can you speak as a mime? And you see the more modern acts like Umbilical Brothers and Gamarjobat, and they speak and they go against the traditions because you don’t need to – you don’t need to follow the traditions –
– Does the tradition involve sound from elsewhere? I remember seeing Tape Face and I noticed how much he was using music to punctuate what he was doing – is that a classic thing? Have they always used music or other sounds, as long as it’s not coming from the actual mimes?
Yes, well, music is very important – I mean, mime is an imitation of real life and the audience need to understand what you’re doing, that’s very important (laughs) – so, if you need to use sound effects and you need to use music, use it; if it helps the audience to understand what you’re doing, that’s fine. I mean, actually, it’s very effective in mime.
London is bursting at the seams with shows of all shapes and sizes. What can you tell us about your production, MIMES – why should we come and see you?
The show is very flexible and it’s for a wide audience; it’s fun, it’s silly, it’s light-hearted. It’s just an hour of games and play, so that can be enjoyed by an audience who just want to come along at 12.30, sit back, relax and be entertained. But also underneath that, there is a message about the role of the leader and rules and how strictly can we follow rules? Is it okay for one person to enforce these rules, why can’t we all be equal? There is that depth to the play as well, which I like because it isn’t just the silly cabaret clown show – I hope people can take something away from it if they want to, because it is there!
Well it certainly sounds like they should, from what you’ve said.
This idea came quite late in the process, but I think it’s good because I don’t necessarily want to do a full on political play, but at the same time I don’t want to do a show where the audience just sit back, relax and become voyeurs – there is something there where there’s engagement, and engagement on a few levels. Engagement in the sense that people can play games with us and engagement where people can sit and go actually, this is interesting, these guys are talking about something that’s important. We’re talking about something that in this day and age is quite important: the idea of control, the idea of a leader; red tape, rules –
– So it’s very current then!
Has anything or anyone in particular inspired the content of your show?
Obviously, the style, the genre, the style of pantomime – clowns! I mean, really, it’s a clown show, and we use the technique of mime – mime and clown are pretty closely related anyway. I think this is more me than Mauro and Poalo but I quite like this; at one point I was writing things on Twitter – finding quotes on the internet and changing them, parodying them, and I like the quote – well, I love the quote, from Animal Farm, which is ‘All animals are qual, but some animals are more equal than others’ – and I changed it to ‘All mimes are equal, but some mimes are more equal than others’ – and that comes into play in the show, so for me – it’s Animal Farm.
If an audience takes just one thing away from seeing MIME, what would you like that to be?
I’d probably say laughter. If no one laughs, then we’ve definitely done something wrong!
What advice would you give to someone thinking about pursuing mime as their performance style or avenue?
It’s important to know your body (laughs) and how to use it – I’m definitely learning, and I say that in the sense of body isolation. I’m really bad at it actually – the way people can just move their head side to side, or just move their chest, or hips – that’s very very important for mime actually because your biggest tool is your body – your hands. And A lot of exercises we do are about multi-tasking and sort of splitting your brain, so we have these exercises with our hands. The exercise teaches you to be able to do two different things at the same time with both hands, so it’s knowing how to use your body, which is a really really big part of studying mime.
I’d say mime is like a language like any other language, so it takes a lot of time to practise it, to master it, so when you come to doing, for example, improvisation exercises, it’s quite difficult actually because if you’re just starting mime and you improvise, you kind of find yourself like ‘argh what am I doing?!’ – and that’s because you don’t know your language yet. You need to learn the language – the same way as if I tried to improvise in Italian, it’d be a disaster – why? Because I don’t know the words, so you need to know your vocabulary – it just so happens that our language is a physical one. The last thing is to observe. Observe everything in the world around you; mime is an imitation of life so just have a bit more of an open awareness of what goes on. How can you mime being a builder if you don’t know what a builder does, you know?
MIMES is part of the Camden Fringe, which must be a fantastic experience – what does the Camden Fringe mean to you?
It means a lot – it’s means a lot to all three of us, in a big way and in different ways. I mean, obviously, for my colleagues, it’s a big and important experience for them because they’ve never performed in London before, let alone the UK. You know, everyone has this idea of going over to London, wow, to perform –
– So are they coming over for this? You’re not all local to London now?
No – I live in Italy as well, so we’re all coming over for this, so that’s a big deal for them. For me it’s a big deal because for the past five years all I’ve wanted to do is put together a company and perform at a fringe festival, I just haven’t had the opportunity or the money, so I’m happy that – even though it’s strange because I’ve gone to Italy and now I’m coming back – but I’m happy that I’m doing what I’ve wanted to do for a few years, and that’s cool. And I mean, London is a major international city and I’m saying this because it goes back to what I said about visual comedy can be performed to anyone; I’m pretty sure that you could find people from every single country in the world in London. I like the fact that if people wanted to come to the show, the show is there for them – people wouldn’t have to feel worried about ‘uh, I don’t know, what if I don’t understand it? I’m not sure, what if I don’t understand the English?’ No, it doesn’t matter, because we’re not speaking words! So come along!
Ah, the beauty of mime! So there you have it! I’ll be reviewing MIMES on August 20th and I can’t wait – it sounds like a fantastic show – you can snap up your tickets here. Look out for the review and Part II of my interview with Samuel, in which we chat about all things theatre!