Cold – London International Mime Festival

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writers and Directors: Claire Coaché and Lisle Turner

While this year’s VAULT Festival was forced to cancel, the other highlight of the winter months returns in full force. The London International Mime Festival has opened and over the next four weeks there are all kinds of physical theatre and circus shows across the capital, all relying on the visual and where spoken words are scarce. There are also digital performances too, and available online for the entire duration of the festival is Cold, a strange and troubling examination of pregnancy and miscarriage.

A couple wait in hospital for their ante-natal appointment. The woman seems to be in pain. To pass the time, the man begins to tell a fairy-story, but the tale unravels without a happily-ever-after in sight. He imagines them as Ulf and Falda living in a remote cabin in an endless winter. His story is desperately raw and painfully intimate, based on the real-life experiences of filmmakers Claire Coaché and Lisle Turner who lost two children through miscarriage.

As the titles to the opening chapter tell us, here there is no space for words, and when Ulf and Falda try to speak only blood comes out of their mouths. Their silence could be explained in two ways; that the memory of losing babies in pregnancy is still too hard to put words to or perhaps that the tragedy pushes the man and woman so far apart from each other that they are simply unable to communicate. Their grief is displayed through their bodies, not their words.

When Falda first feels that something is wrong with her pregnancy, a beast prowls and howls outside their cabin. Ulf, axe in hand, tries to protect her, but the beast’s attack is invisible and Falda is struck down with a fever. While she sleeps, Ulf has to make the most terrible of decisions.

Coaché and Turner refer to this devastating feeling of loss as ‘the cold’, and it is represented spectacularly in their film, and it’s hard to believe that the snow and the forest and the sunlight that pierces through the cabin’s walls were recreated on the stage of the Courtyard Theatre in Hereford. And it’s impressive, too, that it was all shot in a week using a single camera. Coaché and Turner have created the bleakest of midwinters where spring seems almost an impossibility. Johnny Pilcher’s score complements the film perfectly, and the piano sounds as fragile as the life Falda and Ulf lead.

Janet Etuk gives Falda great strength through the smallest of gestures, and ultimately Falda remains powerful within her loss. Ulf rages, and Jacob Meadows’s performance is visceral and his body –muscles, veins, eyes – rages too. Their grief separates them; she lies inside while he performs rituals outside, clinging on to any hope he can find.

After 80 minutes, spring does come, but without the happy ending usually prescribed to fairy stories. Coaché and Turner have created a moving and challenging film about every parent’s worst nightmare. With one in four pregnancies not reaching full term, this film offers support and understanding to parents everywhere. Cold is beautiful and brutal. But there is hope too.

Available here until 6 Feb 2022

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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