When Broadway veteran and world-famous mime Bill Bowers starts his show talking about sitting in a Hollywood make-up truck at three in the morning, with Hugh Grant to his left and Donald Trump to his right, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re in for little more than an hour of polite kiss and tell about that old business they call show. Bowers, though, has other ideas; knowing that the first question most people ask him is ‘why?’ he became a mime artist, the focus becomes significantly more intimate and personal.
Through the use of some subdued lighting and his own physical dexterity, Bowers easily pulls his audience into the small town in Montana where he grew up, a big and quiet landscape populated by people who were equally huge, silent and not good at expressing feelings. A world in which, for example, his clinically depressed father once hired a pilot to write ‘I Love You’ in the sky rather than say the words directly to his wife; ‘Easier done than said,’ as Bowers says. Given that background, is it really any surprise that he became a mime artist?
Bowers is a sufficiently skilled storyteller, combining both physical movement and words, to ensure that such a connection doesn’t err close to triteness. More than sufficient, in fact; time and again, as he describes his family, his neighbours, his school-day, and then his early career, Bowers proves himself to be a winsome narrator, capable of switching between the comedic and the tragic with an astounding fluidity and delicacy. This is a show which speaks of a far wider world while remaining remarkably specific and individual, not least his own growing realisation that he was ‘different’ from the other boys, and quickly learned to keep his creative urges ‘to himself’.
Luckily, one notable teacher, referred to only as ‘Mr D’, encouraged him out of his shell, suggesting he joined the school drama club–or ‘Gay Headstart’ as Bowers now thinks of it–and then helped him find his professional calling in ‘the Art of Silence’. Bowers’ subsequent tales of college and then the many years spent learning and practising his craft right across America, are often funny in their ridiculousness, yet also profoundly moving given Bowers’ own personal losses during and after the HIV epidemic in the 1980s.
Like any storyteller, Bowers sees connections and continuities in his life, but the overriding impression is one of joy and celebration of it all, the good and the bad. As a result, this must surely be among the most feel-good and life-affirming productions on the Fringe and surely the only one to also remind us of the genuine expressive power of the simplest of gestures.