Camden People’s Theatre
January 16th – January 18th, 2015

by Richard Hamer

There’s a peculiar intensity to the central – and indeed only – role in Tatterdemalion‘s one man cavalcade of mime, puppetry and raucous physical comedy. A large man, dressed in the battered garb of a Victorian down-and-out, stands before us – a nameless tatterdemalion pulling an array of random objects from a huge trunk in the centre of the stage.

Shirts, hats, boxing gloves and dolls are alternately revealed and wordlessly toyed with, with the wide-eyed, infectious joy of a child. But as a child who is easily six feet tall, well built and sporting a truly luxurious beard, there is a sense that he doesn’t quite know his own strength, that as he bounds around the stage literally grabbing people out the audience to take part, that he is operating precisely on the border between child-like wonder and adult-like maniac. It makes for hypnotic viewing.

But viewing isn’t all you’ll be doing, as audience participation is a huge part of the show, and its greatest strength. We are invited to take part in mock fights, mime along with him and – at one point – I myself was ridden like a horse, gently encouraged to make neighing sounds while a heavy, sweaty man jumped up and down on my lap. Needless to say, it took me back to boarding school.

So as we all sat there together making car sound effects while our mustachioed vagrant mimed all the actions, there was a wonderful sense that we were building this show together, playing together. It’s potentially a risky venture; if the audience on the night aren’t up for it (or at least slightly drunk) then it isn’t certain how well it would all work. But it did for us, and it was tremendous fun to be a part of.

Through this shared experience, larger themes start to emerge. Mr.Tatterdemalion is searching for a friend, and through the performance this is what we became. As he opens the door to the peculiar little world in his head, we bring him – little by little – in to ours, and somewhere in the middle a connection is made.

And on the other side of the coin, there are hints at darker themes of death and loneliness through a couple of entirely scripted sequences that display great artistry and atmosphere, but ultimately don’t really come to anything and feel frustratingly under explored.

But Tatterdemalion on the whole is a wonderful thing. A skillful central performance creates a show that is alternately warm and charming, dark and sinister, yet – no matter which face it is showing you – laugh out loud funny throughout.

Of all the times I’ve been ridden like a horse while my friends stared on in terrified amusement, this was easily the best. Highly recommended.

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