Mistero Buffo

Go and see this show right now.

As a mime he is flawless, as a storyteller he is utterly compelling.

I just wanted to get that out before wasting any more time. Now to the review.

As we walked up the winding staircase to Underbelly's Big Belly space the walls were dripping with what felt like the sweat of a thousand performers and audience members. We ducked into the venue and the air was thick. The scene was set for an intense 75 mins of possibly the best physical theatre you'll see in this year's Fringe.

The Lecoq-trained company Rhum & Clay present Dario Fo's 1969 comical mystery play, Mistero Buffo, with a furious energy and technical skill that was absolutely deserving of the standing ovation it received.

Julian Spooner is the Jongleur. An itinerant performer from the middle ages who is given the freedom to speak truth to power by Jesus. He roams from city to city, performing to the assembled crowds (that evening, we were his crowd), telling versions of stories from the Bible that attack the powerful in favour of the people.

Fo's play, translated by Ed Emery and tweaked by Rhum & Clay, is the foundation on which a formidable performance by Spooner is built. It's the solo performance at the centre of Mistero Buffo that's remarkable here. It's the way he shapes and transforms the space as the stories and scenes unfold. It's the 100+ characters he flickers between with ever-increasing rapidity, climaxing at the resurrection of Lazarus where he conjures up an entire crowd out of thin air. As a mime he is flawless, as a storyteller he is utterly compelling.

But Mistero Buffo isn't merely a technical marvel. Fo's text is subtly spun through the lens of modern itinerant and gig-economy workers, sliding this 50-year-old spectacle gently into contemporary relevance. There's nothing heavy-handed about the way that Rhum & Clay present it though: it deftly dances between the timeless and the modern.

After the standing ovation had died down, Spooner did a customary 'thank you' to the audience, and mentioned the workers rights organisation (organise.org.uk) they have partnered with. The story of the Jongleur and the downtrodden people he speaks for is insanely relevant today. In fact I would have loved to see a little more of that in the piece. More relation to the "corporate-dominated post-truth world" that they talk about in the blurb. But it's a minor criticism, and the opening scene sets this up nicely.

Whether you go for the political allusions and biblical deconstruction, or the spectacle of a performer at the absolute top of his game, Mistero Buffo demands your time. Buy a ticket now, before they sell out.

Reviews by Jim Ralley

Gilded Balloon Teviot


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Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
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Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
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The Blurb

Award-winning and critically acclaimed company Rhum and Clay bring to the stage Dario Fo's seminal master piece, Mistero Buffo – a daring and explosive rallying cry for the disenfranchised. A travelling storyteller, another employee of the gig economy, rushes from his last delivery of the day to recount ancient tales of Jesus and his life... however these versions aren't like any you've heard before. Darkly comic, sometimes tragic and always subversive, Mistero Buffo takes aim at those who manipulate truth and belief for power and control. Nominated for the Peter Brook Ensemble Award 2017. **** (Guardian).

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