Creators: Dorothy James and Andy Manjuck
Bill is disconsolate. He has decorated his apartment with birthday regalia, has mixed a potent punch, inflated the balloons – but nobody is turning up to his party. He only receives one present in the mail from his mother – a video cassette that his VCR immediately eats up and spits out into a tangled web of magnetic tape.
And so Bill, the puppet creation of puppeteer Dorothy James and artist Andy Manjuck, does what any lonely man in his situation would do – he lets his imagination run riot. Using a Sharpie to draw on a carrot stick, he creates a miniature party guest – but when he does the same with all the balloons, the party begins to be overrun with uninvited guests.
Bill – a Muppet-sized two-person creation, articulated by Manjuck and James – is remarkably expressive in spite of, or perhaps because of, his simplicity. His bald head has only sunken sockets for eyes, and his bushy eyebrows and moustache never move. His torso, an accurate (if faintly damning) representation of middle-age spread, jiggles and sags a little too convincingly as Bill dances to the party music, an original recorded score by Eamon Fogarty that puts one in mind of Vince Guaraldi’s jazzy work for the Charlie Brown 1970s animated specials.
Bill’s storyline has its moments of slapstick, many of which are implemented by the show’s third puppeteer, Jon Riddleberger. A brief but action-packed sequence as he attempts to extricate himself from predicament after predicament in order to answer the telephone has all the doomed fatalism of a Mr Bean skit. And when things start to get really trippy, with bullying balloons threatening to take over the party and tormenting Bill in his own home, there’s a delightful sense of anarchic creativity at work.
But the final act in this hour-long work – one of the highlights of this year’s London International Mime Festival – really stands out. A smaller marionette version of Bill races through the birthdays of his life to date, from a toddler to the man he has become.
Like the rest of the show, it’s sweetly hilarious with flashes of bizarre originality. But it comes to be more than that, as Bill begins to accept himself, and realise that he doesn’t need others to validate his own existence.
By then, though, he has charmed the entire audience, and he is indeed in a room full of people who love him. Describing it as a love letter to self-acceptance would be quite correct, but it’s more than that: it’s an hour in the company of someone you can’t help falling in love with.
Continues until 4 February 2023