It’s Tuesday night in The Pit and two bald, middle-aged French men are telling a story. In many ways it’s an old story: girl meets boy, falls in love, goes on an adventure in which they lose and then find one another again. In many more immediate ways, it is not. The man to my right, Romain Bermond, is etching a park boulevard with geometric detail in real-time. Opposite him, the man to my left, Jean-Baptiste Maillet, is playing a drum kit with one hand, space-rock synths with the other and a harmonica in-between. They are Stereoptik and Stellaire is a love-story mime. It is also set in space.
Using three cameras, mounted up, down and into a tank of water, Stereoptik manipulate light through puppets, paint and sand. The resultant kaleidoscope is projected onto a screen between Bermond and Maillet, who busily churn through small mountains of arts supplies at their desks. Maillet takes breaks to operate a one man band: looping together a soundtrack that is part prog-rock and part melancholy Disney short. It’s like pulling off a magic trick without any screens or hidden wires. In the audience your eye is pulled between the constituent parts – precisely directed by men with the combined enthusiasm of a substitute teacher – and the swirling, cosmic swathes they conjure on the screen. It’s slick, mesmerising and surprisingly funny.
A park becomes a beach, becomes a mountain, becomes a tree, as the couple drift through a painted mosaic of dream-dates. Stars form from swirls of paint suspended in water. In the depths of a blackhole underworld, the final, ungainly monster revolves itself into a pop-art portrait of Einstein. Then a disco ball materialises and Stereoptik lurch into a cantina-band style space rave. There’s continual delight in the revelation of foregrounded shadows, when shifting shapes become recognisable and shifting sands reveal the distant stars.
If it’s fair to say that the story is a little threadbare, then it’s also true that Bermond and Maillet earn themselves that liberty with the momentum each scene generates. Narrative incoherence isn’t an issue; Stellaire is clearly a story told in a dream-like fug. But there are diversions (like a moon-landing sequence or Bermond’s charcoal drawing) which oversell their value in driving the story’s emotional stakes. It’s a riveting spectacle, but Stellaire ends up feeling more like a space-themed showcase of Stereoptik’s many talents than a story.
Review written by Daniel Shailer.
Stellaire is currently showing at the Barbican as part of this year’s London International Mime Festival until Saturday 5th February 2022. To find out more about the production, visit here…