Tape Face is the creation of Sam Wills and this production combines a wealth of talent and experience in street theatre with skilful application of traditional theatrical elements. A thoroughly entertaining evening to be enjoyed in the comfort of a West End theatre.
Sam Wills is the man behind the tape. He started performing in New Zealand and, in 2005, a chance encounter with a piece of duct tape gave birth to the phenomenon of Tape Face. After travelling the world and honing his skills both in street theatre and on stage, Tape Face is currently playing at the Garrick Theatre.
There is a set. It’s a dilapidated space between the outside world and the stage, a kind of limbo. A voiceover calls two hours to curtain – Tape Face has arrived very early. He takes a seat and appears to sleep. The time until curtain is filled with – the performance, filling the vacuum of time.
Lights, set and sound are all traditional stage elements and all here are first class. They raise the street theatre context to another level. Changes in lighting are often cued by movement and are very slick. There are frequent tricks with light and smoke against the set and Tape Face himself that create stunning visuals.
The sound track is diverse and well chosen. The Parisian piano accordion meanders through the business and echoes the mime aspect of the performance with a tongue-in-cheek nod. Familiar pop classics like Eye of the Tiger add different notes to the soundtrack. Of course the music and sound effects are vital in this piece, as there are no words spoken by the performer.
Tape Face is created by Kilimanjaro Live in association with Lee Martin for Gag Reflex and the credit for design is collective.
Against these trappings of conventional theatre is the simple and yet complex joy of street theatre. Simple because each component of business is a complete module of its own and yet complex because they layer together to add up to more than the sum of the component parts. There is a thread connecting each piece to an end that, paradoxically, is the supposed beginning of the show as heralded in the opening.
A good example of the elevation of the ordinary is the plate spinning shtick after interval. It’s been done for centuries but in Tape Face there is an added sound element. As each plate is spinning a voiceover provides a strand of thought, as if from within the mind of the performer. As each additional plate starts to spin another thought is laid over the ones that went before. The plates are kept spinning as are the thoughts.
There is audience participation, just as there is in street theatre. Unsuspecting audience members are urged to participate to varying levels of success and enthusiasm. Their antics are entertaining particularly when highlighted and engineered by Tape Face. Some are emotionally moving.
In a theatre that more frequently houses serious dramatic pieces, it’s possible to think Tape Face is trying too hard to broach new and unnecessary horizons. However when the entertainment is good enough it doesn’t matter where you see it, in the Garrick Theatre or in the street. Certainly in the Garrick there’s lights, sound…and comfortable seats.