Gary Barber as Popeye
‘ 3 David Glass puts the spinach back into mime theatre in a feisty version of the adventures of Popeye. Jo Roe investigates.
ast year David Glass took his impressive. hollowed features to the Assembly j Rooms for a memorable. if flawed evocation of Moby Dick. A veteran ofthe , Fringe. Glass has shown his willingness to experiment. and his confident. I knowledgeable technique has ranked him high in British mime. This year the project is bigger than i ever. Dipping into a pool of27 performers who make up the David Glass New Mime linsemble. he has come up with an exuberant. thigh—slapping ‘ version ofthe adventures of Popeye.
Conversation is littered with references to Dickens. reflecting (ilass‘s affinity with that author‘s powerful and detailed sense of drama and a common desire to release the imagination. ‘At the bottom of theatre is my idea of mime which is that the performer imitates the world around him and that the audience imitates the performer. I want my audience to be moved physically by a performance. Then after that. the story of the play takes the released imagination and defines it. That‘s why for me mime is the . foundation oftheatre. The best sort of theatre is where you come out saying. ah it was wonderful. did you see the mountains? and there were no mountains.‘
I begin to understand what initially sound like high-falutin theories as (ilass explains how the piece was put together. ‘To an ordinary audience hopefully they won't care whether it is mime or what. it‘s just a good evening at the theatre. But if someone said where did this work come from. there is a lot of mime involved. ()ften I‘m not telling the actors anything about language. we just use gobbeldegook. I‘ll say you come in with this rhythm. a rhythm ofa dog looking for a bone. They imitate the rhythm until they find something that helps.‘
The absence ofa strict script has meant the piece has gone through several changes since the first performance last December. ‘We made some quite big changes in the tour. exploring the gags and so forth. This time we are trying to make as fine and as strong a show as possible. We wanted to refine all the action and to increase the physicality and make it much more vivid. The thing about a play is that the writer has spent three or four years writing it and they sort of take
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it out on tour by putting it in front ofthemselves every few months. But often a show which is based on devised theatre and an exploration of comeddia del‘arte and melodrama. is written in the rehearsal room and then tried out on the audience.‘
Suprisingly enough no-one else has ever attempted to stage Popeye. Watching part of Glass‘s version on video. the gallery of caricatured oddballs are well suited to his style of exaggerated theatre. (‘reated by li.(‘. Segar the strip. originally titled 'l'lznnbe Theatre was. in effect. drawn with a theatrical eye. influenced by the author‘s fondness for vaudeville. Still. it can‘t be easy to transfer static figures to the stage. ‘We had to get all the character stuffout ofthe language and the shapes of the figures.‘ explains (ilass. ‘lirom the shapes we began to think how would that character move. The shapes that they are and the rhy thins that they move in. indicates who they are and what they want in the world.‘
The original show was criticised for attempting to project the characters into a nightmarish vision ofthe period after Segar‘s death in 1938. In response (ilass points out that 'what we didn‘t want to do was to just put a comic on stage. The idea was that the first part of the show follows Popeye as a symbol for America in the 30s. a naiy e. simple character who expresses the innocence and good-nuttiredness of simple American people. ‘l'he second half follows a war and post-w ar situation w here America was no longer able to do that. Popeye was the most popular cartoon figure and his popularity dive-bombed after the war. I have. though. taken on board a lot of criticism. It now stays within the comic world whereas before it began to mm c towards the tragic.’
'l‘heorising aside. the result is a show which captures the vulgarity and cruelty of Segar‘s original. The jokes. both visual and verbal. come in thick and fast. delighting in the irreverance which attracts adults and young ‘uns alike. "()h ()live. you‘ve gots a face like an anchovy.‘ croaks Popeye. and the lionse roars.
Popeye In [iii/e (Fringe) Dav/d (iluss New .lllme Ensemble. Assembly Rooms (lr'enuen’) 336 3438. IU/lug [Se/)1. (no! I}. If), .30 Aug). 4pm. to ([4). j
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