Edinburgh Fringe 2018
Slapstick masked comedy with darker undertones about the cycle of life and relationships from baby to old age
In a giant playpen a man-child in a babygro attempts to crawl, bottom high in the air, legs slipping and sliding in different directions, arms giving way, failing repeatedly but undaunted, and so, so pleased with himself when he begins to make progress. Something as simple as an adult pretending to be a baby is hilarious when it done so well and it’s just one highlight of a series of acutely observed set pieces in from these masters of masked comedy.
Not so much a narrative as a series of vignettes, Infinita dips in and out of care home and a children’s playroom following a group of old people with dementia and a group of small children, drawing obvious parallels between their behaviour. That may sound a little disrespectful, but it doesn’t come across that way. It’s affectionate rather than mocking, and suggests the cycle of life as well as an observation of the behaviour of groups and the roles people fall into, regardless of age and stage.
In the nursery the children steal toys from each other. The play pen becomes a wrestling ring as they throw each other to the ground. Two boys take a doll from the baby, his sister then steals it on. She plays nurses and makes them be the patient, but they are more interested in looking up her skirt. Not afraid to interact with strangers, of course, the children throw a ball to the audience and expect them to play too.
Meanwhile, in the old folks’ home one elderly man who is clearly the top dog bullies and dominates the others, while another with kleptomaniac tendencies tries to steal medicines every time the nurse’s back is turned and a third has a habit of waving his bedpan around in a rather alarming way. They fight with each other, but there’s a kind of companionship to it as well, they’re all in the same boat.
They are joined by a newcomer, a rather sad old man in a wheelchair, who just wants to play the piano – or escape the home altogether – but brings joy and music to the others. Each has his own preferred tune that awakens something from his past and sets walking sticks tapping.
Familie Flöz are so good at what they do you genuinely think the masks are changing expression, a testament to both the spot-on body language and the quality of the masks themselves. No words are needed. This is complemented by a series of silhouettes projected onto a large screen, providing flashbacks that link the babies to the adults.
The set is simple, the giant playpen providing a baby’s view perspective, a bench, the screen and some huts around the edge that represent the rooms in the care home. Only the latter could perhaps be improved as from the back of the audience you can see over the top of them into the internal construction.
Music is used effectively and beautifully throughout, from the live piano playing of the old man in the care home to the sound of a cello, which reminds him of his sister, and an offstage accordion.
Somehow Infinita manages to be both bittersweet and laugh out loud funny. It’s slapstick, but with a darker undertone, made clear by the show opening with the projection of a funeral. But the downright silliness gives it an uplifting joy, despite there being only one outcome for those in the care home. It’s life affirming and you should take the chance to go and see it.