Trygve Wakenshaw: Nautilus

Trygve Wakenshaw: Nautilus
Soho Theatre
January 11th-23rd, 2016

by Richard Hamer

Trygve Wakenshaw (I looked it up, it’s pronounced Trig-vee) stands alone on stage, face and body contorting uncomfortably, painfully, beneath a single spotlight. He twists, shoulders and arms jerking like a body vainly resisting some invisible force. A dozen expressions swim across his features. The spotlight goes, the lights come up, and suddenly he is changed.

A great part of the pleasure of Nautilus – Trygve’s Foster’s Nominated one-man show of mime and clowning – comes from the sheer physicality of the man. Trygve is built like a ballet dancer – slender and lithe – his every movement deliberate and considered. There’s a visual – I don’t know the word – tidiness to the way he moves. Whatever he becomes, be it a chicken, a velociraptor, Aretha Franklin or Our Lord Jesus Christ, you just get it well before the first jokes come in. Often, his body simply is the joke: his velociraptor walk is way more convincing than anything in Jurassic World.

The jokes are also funny. Nautilus is structured as a series of sketches, broken up with short intervals where Trygve morphs between characters. The sketches vary wildly in tone and content: some are simply playful slices of physical comedy, others shockingly risque, a few even somewhat sad. What they all do have in common is a wonderful inventiveness and eccentricity. There are no props here, not even audience participation: this is just one man on a stage, concocting bizarre scenarios for the sheer joy of it, and toying with our expectations of how they should play out: Jesus Christ can’t play in the pool because the water always parts when he leaps in. A hungry man marries a chicken who cooks her own children for him. Later, one of these characters gets fellated by a priest, but I’m not giving away who.

At ninety minutes, you’d worry that the joke would start to run thin, its impact worn away by a rigid structure of sketch after sketch after sketch. Excitingly the opposite is true, because it is in its second half that truly brilliant things start to happen. A world begins to emerge, characters move from scene to scene, combining and subverting each other’s stories in strange and spectacular ways. This place, this world of Trygve’s imagination where Jesus, Chicken Wife and a whole host of others co-exist begins to feel oddly real, somehow consistent in its utterly insane inconsistency. Even better, in its closing act Trygve begins to tear down this world in his mind, its occupants no longer fully under his control. Its final scenes are as hilarious and inventive a deconstruction of mime art as I’ve ever seen, a denouement not to be spoiled.

Nautilus is a success on every level: on one hand a ridiculous idiotic farce, and on the other, a celebration of the imagination as wickedly clever as I’ve ever come across. It is a quiet triumph.


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