Catalan circus duo Fet a Mà present Cru, a delightfully playful yet strikingly potent piece about everything and nothing at the same time, as part of the London International Mime Festival 2014. Pre-set on stage in the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room, Marta Torrents struts high-heeled back and forth across the stage, watched hungrily and hawk-like by Pau Portabella, who seems to devour her in every glance.

Torrents stands upright, downstage, blank-faced as he approaches her shyly. Reluctantly, gently, he reaches out and, with the slightest touch, she topples sideways, full-bodied and stiff as a board. He catches and rights her, only for her to fall in the opposite direction. So begins a playful, acrobatic sequence in which he manipulates and manhandles her, rocking her to and fro, working up to fully spinning her as if on an axis while she remains mannequin-like throughout. Portabella lifts her overhead, holds her by the shoulder upside down with just one hand, spins her in a wide circle at full velocity. Meanwhile Torrents remains firm, her legs straight and engaged, her toes pulled back towards her so she always stands up straight when placed on her feet. Portabella rocks her like a baby in a cradle, getting increasingly rougher until finally she laughs and stumbles when placed upright again.

A slow sequence ends in Torrents sitting perfectly balanced atop Portabella’s head. She slides down his back, turns, and they repeat over and over, getting quicker and quicker until both are panting, breathless. A momentary awkward stillness is dispelled as she blows a short sharp burst of air directly into his face, and they move on.

The dynamic pair are highly characterised throughout the touching, challenging and hilarious piece that unfolds hereafter. Their immense skill is undeniable – Torrents balances effortlessly and flings herself at Portabella repeatedly, who catches her with precision every time. Yet they also reach into the very essence of human emotions.

There are some extremely sweet moments, like a hug that dissolves: as Torrents slowly becomes floppier and less animated, Portabella becomes more eager to engage her, burrowing his face into her and squirrelling around her in his attempts to keep her mobile and upright. Her ragdoll limbs, splayed out in all directions, are a metaphor for the futility in Portabella’s efforts to retain her. When Torrents, pigeon-toed, knock-kneed and puppet-like, has collapsed in an insensible heap, Portabella picks her up by the feet and attempts to help her regain her dignity (though taking some implied liberties along the way). Initially putting the shoe on the wrong foot, he kneads her toes back into her high-heeled shoes, using Torrents’s own, floppy arm to reach the one just out of his stretching distance. He bundles her up and places her back on her feet in a gentle, loving manner, quite different from the way he threw her about the stage previously. 

In the final moments of Cru, Torrents drags a chair downstage to sit close to Portabella. They exchange a serious glance before they snicker, giggle and break into full, open-mouthed toothy laughter together. They comedy-walk upstage, dragging their chairs behind them and laughing. They turn, pause, and leave the space, playing on what they (rightfully) judge will be a fantastic reception. This final exchange, acknowledging their audience and thus the gravity in what they’ve shared, is a touching and playful end to a delightful piece.

Set to a wonderful combination of classic French songs and original music by Boris Billier, Fet a Mà’s Cru explores a whole range of scenarios and human emotions in whirlwind of playful physical theatre. These two young Catalan artists are talented, inventive and highly skilled and their work is not to be missed. You can catch Cru again tonight and tomorrow night at the Southbank Centre as part of the London International Mime Festival.