Preview: The Letter

Mime master Paolo Nani brings his legendary work to town

In an increasingly global world, physical theatre has taken on a new importance. Theatre companies want to perform at a growing number of international festivals, and the best path towards universal understanding is doing shows without words. However, there’s nothing trendy about Paolo Nani, arguably the world’s premier mime artist and pedagogue who runs workshops around the globe. Eschewing seductive multimedia effects, and even dramatic lighting techniques, Nani depends upon his face, body and impeccable timing to tell his story.

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Born 1956 in Ferrara, Italy, but now based in Denmark, Nani started performing in 1978 and formed his own company in 1995. To date, the company has logged over 1,000 performances throughout Europe, Asia and South America – and even Greenland. His well-travelled The Art of Dying (2003) uses gentle comedy to explore what happens to a clown double-act when one discovers he is terminally ill. Jekyll on Ice (2012) has Dr Jekyll as an ice cream vendor, with a working ice cream machine, and his latest show, Small Catastrophes (2014), covers the minor incidents and accidents that happen on stage.

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For his now-iconic The Letter (1992), Nani tells the same story 15 different ways – drunk, vulgar, magical, without hands, or in the style of western, horror and silent films, to name but a few. Nani proves how much can be done with a well-trained face and physique, and the reviews for Denmark’s most-toured show are astronomical. This is elegant – or comical, or even crude – simplicity at its best, as well as a master performer at his finest. Not to be missed.

The Letter is at the Lyceum Theatre Shanghai on Thursday 24 and Friday 25 at 7.30pm. Tickets are 80-300RMB.