'The Cardinals' review or 'Miracles with the strings attached.'
'The Cardinals', Stan's Cafe
Roundhouse Studio Theatre, 14th January 2013
Written for The Ham & High
Mime is often seen as a rarefied genre but Stan's Cafe's 'The Cardinals', part of the London International Mime Festival, is very silly indeed. The central premise sounds rather sophisticated: a bunch of Cardinals stage a chaotic religious-themed puppet show, thus teasing out the link between theatre, religion and the suspension of disbelief. But this slapstick sketch show is much closer to The Reduced Shakespeare Company's blockbuster, 'The Complete Word of God'.
Amidst increasing backstage chaos, three Cardinals (Grame Bell, Rochi Rampal and Craig Stephens) and their Muslim stage manager (Rochi Rampal) perform a puppet-show of 'God's Greatest Hits'. We're shown a range of religious miracles, only with all the (frayed) strings attached. Jesus walks on water, as a Cardinal desperately clings onto the framework above. The Red Sea is parted – but only on the command of a frantic actor hovering nervously in the wings.
The serious demeanour of the cast and the shambolic nature of their show clash entertainingly. The contrast between the Cardinals' earnest intent and the bemused reaction of the audience also prompts some interesting questions about the shifting status of religion today.
But the joke runs out of the steam, as director James Yarkers calls repeatedly on the same gags. The music sticks, the Cardinals forget their cues or a vital prop is mislaid. The light-entertainment grows heavy handed.
What's missing here is that extra meta-theatrical element that might elevate this show beyond the slapstick. The Cardinals characters and their connection with the material on stage is barely explored, nor their tension with the Muslim stage manager. Once the company reach the Apocalypse, they do make some references to 9/11 and suicide bombers. But these allusions come too late and the show fails to reach out beyond the make-shift theatre and into the real world.