Photo by Vinith Bhandari Noci with permission for Varsity

It is not often that one strides through the glass doors of the ADC on a late Wednesday evening and exits them – a mere hour later – having had one’s understanding of an entire art form forever altered. Nevertheless, The Pied Piper is a show which utterly shattered my preconceptions of what mime is and what mime can be.

I should probably clarify that I have never seen mime performed in any capacity before and that I know absolutely nothing about the medium besides what I have gleaned through cultural osmosis. When I say that this show shattered my preconceptions what I mean is that nobody at any point pretended to be stuck inside an invisible box, nor did a procession of mimes ever emerge from an implausibly small car (which, having since undertaken some diligent journalistic research, I now realise is more of a clown thing).

“I did get the feeling that the director (Vinith Bhandari) had bitten off more than he could chew”

In all seriousness, there are elements of this show which are genuinely very impressive, and it’s always nice to see something a bit different take to the ADC stage. However, I did get the feeling that the director (Vinith Bhandari) had bitten off more than he could chew in attempting to tell a rather complex story without the use of classic theatrical crutches such as, you know, dialogue.

Before you start reflecting – based on the fact that I just described the plot of The Pied Piper as “complex” – that the average intelligence of Cambridge students has gone downhill recently, I should say that this production reimagines the tale and inserts various original scenes. I would truly love to be able to tell you more about these scenes. I would. Unfortunately, I watched most of them with only the vaguest comprehension of what was going on. Indeed, on occasion, it felt as though it were Christmas Day and I was trapped in a game of charades which I was going to lose, on a team with nine of my most theatrical family members who were all becoming increasingly frustrated at my obtuseness.

The show starts with a birth – presumably that of the piper himself. I think that they get put inside a tree at some point. There are several scenes involving birds. Beyond this insight, I’m afraid you’re on your own. The lack of clarity is a little annoying, as taking inspiration from such a simple and well-known story – a pest control guy dressed like a funky wizard lures rodents to their death and then does the same to some children – should come with the advantage that there is no danger of the audience getting lost. Not to mention the fact that the children don’t even die at the end in this version. I appreciate that this is a strange thing to be disappointed about, but there you go.

“Much credit has to go to the cast, who presumably undertook the immense challenge of learning a whole new art form and skill set in preparation for this show”

Nonetheless, much credit has to go to the cast, who presumably undertook the immense challenge of learning a whole new art form and skill set in preparation for this show, which I’m sure more than made up for any time they might have saved on learning lines and doing table reads. Val Gladkova, who plays the eponymous piper, is particularly brilliant. They move about the stage with a hypnotising elegance, and both his mimes and facial expressions are delightfully precise and expressive. The ensemble cast all put in strong performances and manage to vary their bodily expression depending on the character they are playing, as all but Gladkova have to multi-role. The dance skills of Teagan Phillips and Lola López in particular add an extra dimension to the show.

Something which slightly detracts from these performances, unfortunately, is the tendency to have too many characters on stage at one time, forcing the viewer to dart their eyes about, desperately scrambling for visual clues to work out what on earth is going on.

Costumes are kept simple, with the cast in all black. While I understand that this was probably a sensible decision designed to focus attention on the actors’ faces, a part of me did feel cheated at the distinct lack of exuberant, pied, robes. Occasionally accessories such as feather boas and scarves are used to signpost when an actor has switched character. This does make things a little easier to follow, however, I found myself wishing that they had been a little more creative in their choice of these partial costumes, as they do feel like an afterthought.


Mountain View

Sage A comrade and her radio: Tales from Star City

Similarly, I feel that the production could have been more intentional in its use of sound effects, which are at times used to great effect. Had both costume and sound design been embraced as ways of helping to tell the story instead of being sprinkled in almost guiltily as means of avoiding possible confusion, I feel that this show would have come across as bolder and more inventive.

Aside from this one clumsy aspect, however, Anna-Maria Woodrow’s sound design is slick and appropriate. The most successful scenes are the ones in which the action taking place on the stage marries with the music, and the parts where Gladkova mimes playing the pipe along to the soundtrack are particularly impressive.

Sadly, this is a show which did not quite leave me speechless. Still, I’d say that it is nonetheless a show worth seeing if any of the following apply to you:

a) You want to support a fantastic mental health non-profit, as all proceeds from these performances will go to B&Together Cambridge.

b) You want the novelty of – upon being asked if you have any evening plans – being able to answer, “Why yes actually, I thought I might stroll down to the ADC and take in a bit of mime.”

c) You went to see a regular play one time and were left thinking: “Ehh, not bad. Shame about the words.”

The Pied Piper by Vinith Bhandari is playing at 11 pm at the ADC from the 11th – 13th of May.