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The Little Soldiers, The Cockpit

Conceived and directed by Guillaume Pigé

★★★★
Pros: Beautiful imagery, haunting original music, a showcase of first-rate physical performances.
Cons: Might not be your cup of tea if you don’t like mimes! Without words, the story can be difficult to follow.
Our Verdict: A beautiful piece of storytelling, featuring very skilled performers, that captures the magic of the circus. If you like physical theatre, go see it!
Courtesy of The Cockpit
The Little Soldiers is a mesmerizing tale told through movement, music, and light. During the hour-long performance, not one word is spoken. The story is simple and ancient, perhaps pre-linguistic. The little soldiers of the title are two circus performers, played by Guillaume Pigé and Malik Ibheis. They are brothers who have fallen in love with the same ballerina, played by Selma Roth. In the circus tent, the brothers play out their rivalry and ultimately fight to the death.
The production is put on by Theatre Re, an international company specializing in physical theatre and mime. The Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone is the perfect venue for this show. The seating in-the-round makes us feel like we are under the Big Top. The audience is able to sit very close to the action and see every nuance of the performances. The staging is minimal: a ladder, a microphone with cord, a spotlight and an accordion are the only props.
Aesthetically, the show is gorgeous. Costume designer Amédine Bello and lighting designer Katherine Graham both deserve credit for the show’s beautiful imagery. The Little Soldiers captures the strange mystique of the circus, the poetic mixture of glamour and melancholy.
I am not a fan of physical theatre or mimes. I connect with words, with texts, with language. For my day job, I work as an editor. Without words, I found it difficult to follow the story, though I suspect that might just be the way my mind works. The programme helpfully explained that the play is meant to explore what happens ‘when folly takes over men’s mind and when ambition goes beyond moral constraint’. Though I was enchanted by the show’s images and music, I did not find meaning in it.
It is therefore a testament to the skill of the actors that I still found their performances so captivating. The performers do amazing things with their bodies, stunning feats of flexibility and contortion. My favourite image was when the ballerina became a puppeteer to the two brothers’ marionettes. How they make their bodies so floppy, I’ll never know. The Little Soldiers also made me think about how it is possible to tell stories without words. As I was watching the show, I considered how much the face can express on its own. Selma Roth had the most expressive eyes of any actress I have ever seen on stage.
There is a fourth performer who is just as crucial to the show’s success. Alex Judd composed the play’s original music and performs live on stage, playing the keyboard and violin. His haunting music works seamlessly with the movement and helps narrate the story. There were also several well-judged moments of silence.
If the thought of mimes makes you want to head for the hills, you might want to give The Little Soldiers a miss. But Theatre Re and the Cockpit Theatre are currently offering the most impressive physical theatre you could hope to find. It made this reviewer, a self-confessed word-lover and mime-sceptic, give the genre a second look.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The Little Soldiers runs at The Cockpit Theatre until 2nd June 2013.
Box office: 020 7258 2925 or book online at http://thecockpit.org.uk/show/the_little_soldiers.

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