Inspired by some lesser known writings of the great novelist, poet and playwright, Jules Verne, The Man in the Mail tells the story of a lovelorn fellow who decides to send himself by freight to China in order to pursue his paramour. He’s soon discovered and, instead of spending his days in a Chinese prison, he becomes a celebrity travelling from place to place telling his tale and performing remarkable circus stunts. The only catch is that he has to always travel in his box.
It’s a beautiful story well told by an unreliable narrator.
Created and performed by Joshua Philips, one quarter of international circus company Pants Down Circus and one half of the Circus Firemen, The Man in the Mail is more theatre than circus. Philips, in the titular role directly addresses the audience, telling possibly tall tales of exploits from exploring the Amazon to being marooned upon an iceberg and he uses each of these stories as a framing device for some truly spectacular feats of balance and poise.
This is a sweet and intimate theatre piece that celebrates the true skill of the performer and is almost a love-letter to the experience of touring a show. The direction by Aurora Kurth is suitably restrained in all the right moments, leaving the bombast for the tricks. Philips plays the role with a wide-eyed enthusiasm and knows the value in making a trick look difficult in order to draw in the audience before the final flourish for the inevitable applause.
The Man in the Mail is a unique performance of circus theatre and highly recommended for fans of quirky Victoriana with a steampunk aesthetic. It’s a beautiful story well told by an unreliable narrator and isn’t the best type of story?