Gréta soon hooks up with Hannes, distinguished by his smooth charm and uncanny resemblance to a (somewhat older, grey-er and noticeably less limber) flare-clad John Travolta, in addition to Hannes’ partner-in-crime, Grímur, whose greatest achievement each day involves successfully stimulating bowel movement (a happy day, indeed). Together, Hannes and Grímur contend for Gréta’s attention in a series of comic sketches: cue heart-wrenching moments of abandoned, frail old lady juxtaposed with drunken orgies, romps on the bed, sneaking out for an illicit cigarette break and ‘my guitar is bigger than yours’ euphemisms.
What makes ‘Hjartaspaðar’ so unique, aside from its compelling characters and batty sketches, is that the entire play is performed through the medium of mask and mime. Without voice or facial expression to rely on, the talented cast of actors is forced to make use of subtle gestures and body language. Exaggerated action characterises this performance, and well-timed movements are crucial: be it a turn of the head, a hand on the hip (not necessarily one’s own) or, in one particular scene, a bizarre flailing of limbs similar to an inebriated chipmunk. The action onstage works two ways, however, as the audience is required to read this universal language of mime, which draws both audience and actors into a metacommunicative dialogue transcending text and concrete meaning.
The set is simple, the storyline straightforward and the cast small; Gréta (Aldís Davíðsdóttir), Hannes (Orri Huginn Águstsson) and Grímur (Stefán Benedikt Vilhelmsson) form the core characters, whilst the matron (Álfrún Gísladóttir) and two handymen (Erna Björk Einarsdóttir and Klæmint H. Isaksen) offer highly comic support. Together, the actors show, rather than tell, the quirks of old age and offer a window, or a snapshot, into the lively antics of an old people’s home. The behaviour onstage is full of laugh-out-loud moments and slapstick scenes including an overly competitive chess game, in addition to a big-bosomed matron chasing surprisingly supple elderly men around the stage with a hypodermic needle.
Yet the magic of mask and mime which emanates from ‘Hjartaspaðar’ also has the power to lower the performance’s light-hearted tone completely: there are some truly touching and lump-in-the-throat moments which prove, in this wonderful piece of whacky physical theatre, that despite the taboos surrounding it, old age can still be fun, friendly and full of laughs—both bowel movements and booze included.
Last Show, February 10. Gaflaraleikhúsið Theatre, in Hafnarfjörður. – SOLD OUT!