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Interview: ‘Absolutely eye-opening stuff’ Joseph Seelig, co-Director on the London International Mime Festival 2018

Image: Peeping Tom: Mother (Moeder)

Joseph Seelig has been programming the London International Mime Festival (LIMF) for four decades in England’s capital city. For its 2018 outing the festival sees the return of Olivier winning company Peeping Tom; a Mathurin Bolze performance featuring the Cyr wheel; 'Lebensraum' - where a silent film comes to life on stage; plus a rich litany of talent from around the world - 16 productions in all. In our chat with Joseph and his co-Director Helen Lannaghan we cover the festivals female talent, gender neutral domestic robots and why we shouldn’t get too hung up on the ‘M’ word.

Jayson Mansaray: I think most people, like myself, think of a Marcel Marceau type character when you we hear ‘Mime’, but it’s much broader than that isn’t it?
Joseph Seelig:
Our title is historic and it’s a long time since we’ve programmed what most people think of as mime – i.e. white face, climbing imaginary stairs etc. What you see at LIMF is a dazzling range of new circus, puppetry and object theatre, live art and physical theatre. Absolutely eye-opening stuff, just no words. Well, very few.

Jayson: Joseph, why did you think there needed to be a Mime festival when you started LIMF in 1977?
The festival started at the Cockpit Theatre in North West London, where I was programmer. I admired the work of a brilliant young mime/clown, Nola Rae. She was probably much better known abroad than in Britain. We were trying to think of ideas to get better audiences for her, and for visual theatre in general. She told me about a festival in Germany which focused on this sort of performance. Seemed a good idea – create a festival and there’s a chance of attracting media interest, and consequently public interest. It worked for us first time. The festival ran for a month – I think there were about twelve different companies each playing two or three nights. It was supposed to be a ‘one-off’. That was forty years ago.

Jayson: Helen you joined nearly ten years after that, how did you end up being a co-Director of LIMF?
Helen Lannaghan:
I‘d been in the audience in some of those early years and was a huge fan of the festival. I’d describe it as a happy accident that I became involved. I was an upcoming producer and Joseph was looking for someone to help the festival grow. Right time. Right place. And I’m still here…

Jayson: Do you think the festival’s focus on such a specific part of performance art has helped its longevity?
The visual and physical theatre we promote is contemporary, innovative and thought-provoking, and because there are no language barriers it’s internationally accessible. LIMF attracts adventurous audiences who want to see something different, out of the ordinary. And they come back, with their friends. So many factors have contributed to LIMF’s longevity, we’re just proud that it has endured. We think it’s still unique. But there is a demand for what it offers. If it stays bold and relevant and offers shows that tell their stories in thrilling, non-verbal ways, I believe there will always be an audience.

Jayson: What should we be surprised about in this year’s festival?
Practically everything! But for starters, see a silent movie burst into life on stage in Lebensraum at The Peacock, be part of Gabriela Muñoz’s marriage plans at Jacksons Lane, marvel at Magali Rousseau’s (L’Insolite Mécanique - returns only) extraordinary hand-built machines in her story of wanting to fly, and watch Toneelhuis/FC Bergman's bizarre village community prepare for a biblical-style flood on 300 el x 50 el x 30 el at the Barbican.

Image: Jakop Ahlbom and Alamo Race Track: ‘Lebensraum’

Jayson: What should we be most excited about this year?
Impossible to answer, of course. But circus genius, Mathurin Bolze – a Mime Festival favourite over many years has produced a piece for two exceptional acrobats and a Cyr wheel. Beautiful, dangerous, and very exciting. Mathurin's Compagnie Mpta perform Santa Madera at Shoreditch Town Hall and not to be missed. And Peeping Tom at the Barbican – last time they came they won an Olivier Award. The new show, Moeder is an absolute cracker! Great mix of visual theatre and stunning contemporary dance.

Image: Peeping Tom: Mother (Moeder)

Jayson: I was impressed about how international your acts are - how do you curate such a diverse lineup?
We’ve been an international festival since the second edition, in 1978. We travel, we see a huge number of shows, we’re plugged into lots of useful networks. The festival is well known abroad and artists are keen to participate. Getting the right balance of the very best that’s available, affordable and stageable is tricky, but we have a lot of experience by now.

Jayson: The Jakop Ahlbom Company have an interesting storyline - I could imagine at first glance people might be a bit bemused by the inventors who created a “female robot to take care of domestic chores”?
Frankly, I do my own housework, but if I could invent a robot to do it, I would. Of course mine would be gender neutral. But when Buster Keaton’s film (on which the show is based) was made, things were different.

Jayson: Touching on gender, is mime a male dominated industry and what is the balance like within LIMF?
No, I don’t think the performance forms we present are male dominated. Check out our programmefull of talented female artists including three solo shows. About fifty percent of the productions are conceived and directed by women. We have five outstanding women teaching workshops out of a total of ten this year, including one led by Nola Rae who instigated the festival in the first place.

Jayson: Possibly a difficult question, but - what are some examples of miming we might have seen in popular culture and not known it was actually mime?
Michael Macintyre uses mime, there’s Kate Bush, Lee Evans, Peter Kaye, Michael Jackson, The Boy with Tape on his Face, and Lion King was directed by a mime. But let’s not get stressed about the 'M' word. This is a festival of exciting physical and visual theatre, work which increasingly informs mainstream culture.

London International Mime Festival
10 January - 3 February 2018
Various locations