The legacy of legendary French mime Jacque Lecoq endures at Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2013

This article is from 2013

The legacy of Lecoq

The Man in the Moone / credit: Rhys Robinson

Red Bastard, Clout, Theatre Ad Infinitum and Rhum and Clay all bear marks of the great clown's influence

Physical theatre is on the rise: last year, Doctor Brown won the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with a show that displayed his remarkable mime skills, and a generation of graduates from the Lecoq School arrived at the Fringe to reclaim the clown from the circus.

British physical theatre had a revival in the 1980s, thanks to Complicite and DV8, but recent years have seen European approaches arrive in the UK. Clout, who have been touring their 2012 Fringe success How A Man Crumbled, return with The Various Lives of Infinite Nullity and fellow Lecoq alumni Rhum and Clay present The Man in the Moone, an antiquarian science fiction adventure.

French mime artist Jacques Lecoq developed his particular style of visual performance during the 20th century, founding his L'École Internationale de Théâtre in the 1950s. His background in gymnastics, and time with the Commedia dell'arte, evolved into a fascination with the body, masks and movement as essential tools for theatre.

It's a style that's capable of telling comedic and tragic tales: Theatre Ad Infinitum's Ballad of The Burning Star manages both, while Chickenshed, whose director Kieran Fay trained with Lecoq, examine Mugabe's rule in Zimbabwe through The Rain That Washes.

For Rhum and Clay, the reasons for the success of Lecoq are clear. 'At the school you are encouraged to work creatively and make theatre with the other students,' they explain. 'This collaboration continues after school, with many students making companies together – that's what happened with us.'

Ad Infinitum were one of the first Lecoq-influenced companies to astound Fringe audiences with Translunar Paradise, a meditation on mourning. Their latest show, Ballad of the Burning Star, is even more ambitious, as director, writer and performer Nir Paldi grapples with his Israeli homeland.

'Lecoq teaches you to focus always on the theatre you're making,' says Paldi. 'One of the most interesting elements to Ballad's creative process has been discovering how clown and tragedy are connected – in this case through cabaret and drag.'

This versatility allows Lecoq theatre to integrate different genres: it offers the opportunity to use masks, choreography and puppetry, as well as the spectacular visual image. At the same time, it rejects nothing: unlike strict mime, it need not abandon the text – from Red Bastard's ferocious monologue, through Paldi's adventurous synthesis of forms, to Clout and Rhum and Clay's wild absurdism, Lecoq has become a foundation for challenging, witty and engaging performance.

The Man in the Moone, Pleasance Courtyard, 556 6550, 3–25 Aug (not 12, 20), 3.50pm, £10.50–£12.50 (£9.50–£11.50). Previews 31 Jul–2 Aug, £6.
Ballad of the Burning Star, Pleasance Dome, 556 6550, 3–26 Aug (not 13, 20), 5.15pm, £11–£13 (£8.50–£12). Previews 31 Jul–2 Aug, £7.50.

Ballad of the Burning Star

  • 3 stars

When an Israeli living in London becomes enraged by the situation in the Holy Land, he decides to confront the injustice and cruelty by putting on a party dress and heels to go in search for hope.

Man in the Moone

Rhum and Clay Theatre Company. Dreaming of a better life, a man abandons everything he knew and embarks on an epic journey towards the moon. It takes him from the neon smog of the city to the heights of a treacherous mountain and beyond. Critically acclaimed Rhum and Clay weaves myth, absurd humour and their unique visual…

Rain That Washes

Chickenshed. Instantly plunged into a young man's compelling story of growing up in turbulent Zimbabwe, we live and breathe his extraordinary and dramatic journey from innocence to escape, finally returning to his homeland to witness Mugabe's greatest betrayal. Inspired by a series of interviews between Zimbabwean…

Red Bastard

Subversive clown theatre from the American performer Eric Davis.