Tuesday, 18 August 2009
PERFORMANCE REVIEW: Mascha & Vascha
Mascha and Vascha – Strange Ladies
Camden People’s Theatre, Euston
Old people can often seem rather eccentric. Whether it’s the choice to wander around with a freshly set purple barnet, the sporadic – and highly offensive – racist/sexist/homophobic comment, or simply the unnecessary obsession with cats, there’s a lot about the older generation that we just don’t understand. But you’d be hard pushed to find an odder pair of 90-year-old women than the two on offer at the Camden People’s Theatre tonight presented by the aptly named Paris-based performance duo Strange Ladies.
Mascha and Vascha finds the two title characters in the later stage of their lives with a simple wish to go outside for a walk. However, things are not as they seem in this world as runaway chickens, mountains of washing and full-blown wrestling matches all manage to stop them from fulfilling their dream. Splicing together moments of absurd hilarity with touching everyday humanity, Hanna Pyliotis and Lily Sykes – the Strange Ladies themselves – show their audience a day in the life of these two friends; a day that manages to be heart-warming yet frightening in a relationship at times reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s The Twits.
The influence of absurdist theatrical tradition is clearly evident throughout the performance with constantly alternating tempos, seemingly nonsensical utterances and exchanges, and sporadic flits between the concrete everyday and the abstract world of the imagination. The sense of a never-ending wait to go outside, which never materialises, echoes the inaction of Waiting For Godot’s Didi and Gogo who also wait for something that never happens. Like Beckett’s duo, Mascha and Vascha fill their day with mundane domestic chores – such as Pyliotis dramatically hanging out washing and repeatedly peeling onions causing even the audience’s eyes to water – to stave off the empty void of the inactivity forced upon them by old age and isolation
Sykes and Pyliotis are at once charming and sinister in their roles as the two life long friends. With eases of movement and astute comic timing, they inhabit the roles of the elderly women without ever looking awkward or out of place. The commanding presence of Sykes makes you at once fear her and fear for her as she struggles to come to terms with the losses she has suffered, while the clown-like physical movements of Pyliotis make you empathise with her as the put upon friend.
In the post-ironic, post-League of Gentlemen age we live in, Mascha and Vascha, at time seems a little out of date and clumsy, yet this still manages to be a confusing, baffling and thoroughly entertaining piece of theatre. After all, where else can you see two women fight it out like Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior with a little Benny Hill thrown in for good measure?
Mascha and Vascha runs at the Camden People’s Theatre 21st August