This is my first time seeing Tape Face, but due to his face splattered all over magazines and a few TV appearances, I knew the name well. The large-scale arena was packed, including all the side seating. I must advise, avoid these seats as you’ll develop a crick in your neck and still miss certain moments. The surprisingly intricate set mimicked a darkened, grimy backstage dressing/green room. The theatrical premise is simple; Tape Face falls asleep listening to the shipping forecast and we are all part of his dream world. He must wake himself up before his ‘real’ performance begins.
Sam Wills wanders onto stage like a gothic cartoon character. The iconic big eyes, dressed in black, complete with adorable mannerisms. It is this enigmatic charm that convinces audience members to join him on stage. Clowning and mime is an art-form that dates back centuries. But Tape Face is never the clown, instead he picks unsuspecting audience members to play our fool. The control Wills had over us was impressive. At one point using a golf ball on a stick to make us bark out letters in a certain order and we all obliged.
Wills manages to transform the most basic of house-hold objects into powerful storytelling tools. At one point using two shirts, hangers, fly-swatters and feather dusters to create a moving romance and using a pair of shoes and sunglasses to create an impressive Michael Jackson impression. As Tape Face is of course silent, even with his expert mannerisms and hand gestures there is a lot of sound tech added in. Classic songs such as; ‘Don’t Stop Believing’, ‘Wake me up before you Go-Go’ and ‘Eye of the Tiger’ blast over the speakers. A voice over, filtering into his dream, openly mocks him whilst reminding him of the countdown to his show.
I couldn’t help but imagine seeing this performance in one of the many basement, back room venues I have visited this fringe. The intimate feel, being able to smell the audience participant’s embarrassment is what I believe his original shows were like, rightly bringing him his fame. Now, being one of the bigger crowd, it is hard to capture that comradery. The long waits as Wills marches up and down the stairs, scouting out his next victim made the audience restless. The long opening sequence of balancing plates unsettled us. ‘When is it going to get funny?’ ‘Are we in the right show?’ ‘I thought it would be more than this’. Wills manages to win us back however never blows us away.
It’s a simple idea, performed with incredible talent and professionalism, but does it satisfy the arena’s expectations? Not really.
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