The female object of Beethoven’s widely known composition for solo piano is unknown, though in this devised production by the York Drama Soc, she is given form and identity as the love interest of an impoverished French mime artist, François. Accordingly, Elise and François’s tale dominates the piece, with the remaining performers physicalising the additional components required, both in terms of character and scenery. There is a clear sense of depth and added layers of humour - even if, on this occasion, the potential of the idea is not quite matched by its execution.
There are some successfully touching and comic moments, and these would increase in frequency with greater focus on the mime itself
Though the company establishes clearly the stereotypical ‘French-ness’ of the piece, with striped tops and voiceovers in the language, the quality of the mime is disappointing. Lacking the precision and detail to make the invisible utterly clear, as must be the intention, all too often the movements of the performers lack articulated definition, and therefore, though it is not indecipherable, the anticipated crispness and proficiency in the art form fails to shine through. Of course, there are some successfully touching and comic moments, and these would increase in frequency with greater focus on the mime itself.
It is a nice touch that each of the members of the mime ensemble have created their own minion-esque character, and are therefore more than a blank collection of bodies – much of the piece’s humour comes from the facial expressions and movements of these figures. Additionally, we do follow the story, though the company ought to have greater confidence in their own storytelling abilities, as the over-reliance on placards (with text which some viewers might have difficulty reading) becomes too much – it is a useful device, but here used excessively.
Spectators drawn to this production based largely on the title will enjoy the continuous underscoring of Romantic music, with familiar favourites present in abundance. There are also some moments of technical creativity, such as the creation of a black and white cinema, that stand out for breaking up the performance, keeping it from falling into an all too comfortable rhythm – though perhaps the music itself contributes to dictating the performers’ pace in some way. All in all, this is a nice piece of theatre which, with greater development of the central element of mime, and with a reworking of the hastily contrived end, would convey the love story in a more convincing, absorbing and evocative way.