Writers and performers: Quintijn Relouw & Aleksej Ovsiannikov
Director: Fried Mertens
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
Who says language defines our sense of enjoyment in theatre? Truly powerful theatre transcends national boundaries. As Brighton Fringes’s mini festival within a festival – the Dutch Season – shows, language is no barrier.
So it proves with Amsterdam Fringe Award winners Mr.Saiqo and their world premiere of Mano A Mano.
Not a single word is spoken in the 40-minute piece yet the narrative shines through strongly thanks in no small part to two incredibly intense but engaging performances from Quintijn Relouw & Aleksej Ovsiannikov, the intensity heightened by the intimacy forced by the minuscule Junkyard Dogs theatre space.
There is a saying that in studio theatres you can smell the sweat of the actors here, on one of the hottest days of the year, you can smell and almost taste it as the audience are mere inches away, the audience’s sweat combining with the actors to create the ultimate shared experience.
Relouw and Ovsiannikov share the tale of two vagrants, at very different stages of life on the street but thrown together. One, living in a cardboard box is more accustomed to life on the street, a businessmen, desperately clutching to his briefcase, a more recent fall from luck.
Mistrust, fear and despair are all writ large on both their faces, a masterclass in conveying raw emotion through the eyes. That fear and distrust though soon melds into an uneasy alliance, each taking comfort in the other.
There’s perhaps an investable comparison to Waiting for Godot but there’s something much deeper and much more special here – an examination of the struggle to survive a life on the street. Despite the pain clearly on show, there’s also hope, that friendship can be formed from the most unlikely of alliances.
Mixing physical theatre, comedy, clowning and mime the duo create an utterly engrossing world that we can’t help be drawn into. It’s a performance drilled to precision, each movement of eye, hand and body carefully considered to carry the narrative forward. There may be no words spoken but the ‘script’ is so much stronger than many spoken-word dramas. It is surprisingly moving and in a converted outhouse a surprising theatrical revelation.
The duo have won awards for their previous work, and it’s likely that this premiere for Brighton will also garner plaudits, and well-deserved plaudits they will be. A remarkable experience that demonstrates perfectly the power of theatre to transcend national borders.