The Boy With Tape On His Face
A masterclass of mime
This article is from 2010.
The blunt, artless title sets the tone. Kiwi comedian Sam Wills is indeed gagged by gaffer tape, for the whole hour. Not a word is spoken. And what might have fallen flat, as the indulgent experiment of lopping a supposedly essential element off an alternative comedy act, ends up a triumph.
Of course, speechless comedy isn’t at all new, and Wills freely acknowledges his influences. He wears a striped jumper and the soundtrack is accordion-heavy, evoking Marcel Marceau. A DJ bag stands in for Harpo Marx’s overcoat as repository for a jumble of props. His innovation lies in countless subtle updates as he and his hard-working tech make full use of digital precision in sound and lighting. There are relatively up-to-date cultural references here but they stop just early enough (the late 1980s as it happens) to avoid being too temporal or grasping for trendiness.
But the true, basic, underlying reason the show works is that Wills is a slapstick virtuoso. It goes beyond superhuman muscle control and intuitive timing, both of which he has in oodles. It’s an understanding, itself probably not expressible in words, of which secret combinations of gesture, light and music can make almost everyone laugh, and how to create them.
All of which sounds rather worthy and chin-stroking on paper. But make no mistake, it’s a silly gig. There are singing shoes, a ‘babycopter’ and a techno dustbin. There is far more audience participation than would be right or proper for anyone else, but for The Boy With Tape On His Face, it is oxygen. For the audience, emboldened and mollified by the fact that a mute comedian can’t possibly slag them off, it’s a riot.
Gilded Balloon Teviot, 622 6552, until 29 Aug, 10.30pm, £9–£10 (£8–£9).