Edinburgh Fringe 2016
Familie Flöz is a long established German mask company. Teatro Delusio is their homage to theatre, a beautifully crafted piece, which gives voice to theatre’s hidden backstage heroes. The three actors employ masks to parade multifarious characters before us, bewitching us with tales that run from slapstick to pathos.
Familie Flöz’s Teatro Delusio is inside-out, back-to-front theatre – the set is a backstage scene; with wings off and a stage beyond that that we never see. All the world’s a stage, and this time it’s the backstage and its crew who take centre stage.
The show starts with three black clad puppet masters manipulating a small puppet child who seems startled and slightly put out to be brought to life. From here, the three actors put on masks to become the small, tightly knit backstage team: the beaky head in a book daydreamer, the multi-pocketed wannabe action man, and the rather anxious overweight overseer trying to keep the show on the road.
Their quiet humdrum lives are interspersed with the familial interaction between them, their dreams, and their encounters with the performers who troop in and out of the wings. Though there are only three actors on stage, collectively the ensemble create the illusion of a large cast of characters, using masks and rapid costume changes. Not a word is spoken and the characters are masked, and the stories are vitally clear and alive.
As the show is acted out beyond the set, the backstage crew meet a variety of entertainers from orchestra members to opera singers and ballet dancers. There’s a romance with a ballet dancer, some intense fencing as well as watching the footie – all life is here. There’s rollicking slapstick and acutely observed characterisation. But as the main characters grow in depth, there is also real pathos as we see their dreams and hopes are every bit as real as the front stage theatre and deserve to be given a voice. Familie Flöz handle this with consummate skill avoiding letting it descend into sentimentality.
Mask is one of the oldest and most powerful forms of theatre. It demands much of the actors and even of the audience who are more used to viewing facial expressions to interpret emotion. With that stripped away, the actors need to express themselves through an intense physicality. These actors do so with consummate skill, creating a wonderful series of highly individual characters. While the masks are static, there are times when Familie Floz carry us so far into their story that I could swear that one character had cracked a grin or the other had sneered. This is mask theatre at its most skilled with actors treating the form with delicacy and respect.
For a story about theatre and particularly about giving the people who are hidden from view the stage, the mask form seems especially appropriate. Hajo Schüler deserves at least a special mention if not some sort of honour as mask maker.
Given the romping exuberance, it feels a little churlish to complain that it’s perhaps a little over long – there are so many jokes and stories that it begins to feel like no one was hard enough to do that final edit and leave yet another scintillating scene out.
Having said that, this is theatre at its scintillating best, entertaining, hilarious and uplifting.