London International Mime Festival - Then and Now

Feature in Issue 17-4 | Winter 2005

Teenage mime fan Miriam King relives LIMF’s early days.

As a teenager I’d cycle regularly from my council estate home, near the Scrubs in East Acton, to the world of inspiration that was The Cockpit Theatre, near the Edgware Road. I was a member of the Cockpit Youth Theatre, and to my delight, 1978 heralded the first London Mime Festival, housed and hosted there at The Cockpit by a dapper and gloriously corkscrew-haired Joseph Seelig. To be exact, the first festival was really in 1977, called the Cockpit Festival of Mime & Visual Theatre, in which the artists were all British apart from one Swiss performer. Yet 1978 saw the name change and an international line-up. It was 1984 when the name changed again to the one we know today – London International Mime Festival.

But back to the 70s – being a huge David Bowie fan, I’d originally discovered mime via Ziggy Stardust. David Bowie had trained in the late 1960s with Lindsay Kemp, who in turn had trained with Marcel Marceau. Going to see or becoming involved in anything that had something to do with Bowie, I’d taken myself off to see Lindsay Kemp’s decadently sumptuous shows (like Flowers) in the mid-70s. Also adoring old movies, I’d loved the film Les Enfants du Paradis which I saw for the first time at The Academy in Oxford Street. This cinema had a wonderful programme of black and white and silent movies, including a Buster Keaton season with live piano accompaniment!

My appetite was whetted and satiated by discovering in 1978 what more mime could be at that first London Mime Festival. I remember tearing tickets at the doors of the Cockpit Theatre that first season in return for seeing shows for free. I first heard the name Jacques Lecoq via artists in the programme that had trained with him. Mime could be the fast, comic book and cartoonesque antics of the all-male Moving Picture Mime Show, or the white-faced silent mime of Nola Rae (my first experience of a female clown), or the downright bizarre – and neither silent nor costumed – Jango Edwards! I discovered Desmond Jones for the first time, particularly enjoyed the visual comedy of Justin Case and came across the work of Katie Duck. There were also artists from Switzerland, Germany and Argentina.

Leaving behind a crowded house, little conversation, no books and constant TV, my creative and imaginative self was nourished by this early experience of visual theatre – a living, breathing communication. My lost artistic soul found a home, thanks to LIMF showing me a path to that front door. LIMF’s now approaching its 28th year. Older, yet certainly not jaded, I continue to look forward with bated breath to the programme of Europe’s longest established annual focus on contemporary visual theatre. Joseph may have lost his corkscrew curls, but certainly not his dynamic flair for co-directing – with Helen Lannaghan – an inspired programme which sustains yet progresses the possibilities of this exciting, limitless artform – mime.

Referenced Festivals

This article in the magazine

Issue 17-4
p. 21