I’ve always believed that words have the power to do anything you need them to do, whether it’s to tell a story, express an idea, or rouse people to support a cause. The written word is there for us to fulfil our need to communicate, a part of our biological make-up that we often take for granted.
However, I recently found this viewpoint challenged when I did an interview with the rather marvellous mime artist and physical performer, Les Bubb. Les has travelled the world with his cabaret show, toured with Take That and most recently has put his mime skills to good use as a motion capture artist in the 2014 animation of Tarzan. So when we met on a cool summer’s day for lunch on the terrace of the Cosy Club in Bath, I knew he’d have lots to talk about.
We started by discussing his childhood beginnings and early influences, then on to his career progression through the perils of travelling with artificial snakes, getting trapped inside his own suitcase, and how it feels to be on stage with thousands of Take That fans projecting their love.
Throughout our conversation Les was doing what comes naturally. He was performing. Not his full act, obviously, he didn’t turn up with a bowler hat and case and wrap rubber bands around his face (that would have made the other diners pause over their steak sandwiches). It was more that he was gesticulating and demonstrating, doing the voice of Richard Harris when talking about the Harry Potter films, or playing with those imaginary snakes to mollify airport security. So the problem I had when writing it up was trying to convey these stories with the awareness that something was missing, that mere words were not enough.
This was particularly evident when I met up with him on a later date and he demonstrated the balloon trick. He was talking through the various elements as he moved, giving details on the fluidity of movement, the effect of gravity, how to visually deceive the audience, a demonstration that was a mini-masterclass of the art form.
As you can imagine, the words on the page seemed rather inadequate after that, a bit like bread without the Nutella.
In the end this section required several drafts, going back to Les to find the best way of expressing something that really can’t be expressed through words. I’m moderately satisfied with the finished product, but still secretly hanker after an accompanying video.
It’s always humbling to realise your limitations, so to meet someone who has full mastery of words and movement is humbling indeed.
You can read the interview here, and you’ll be able to see Les in action as part of a new Saturday night TV show in January 2015.
Note: Sadly IdeasTap, who originally published this article, has now closed due to lack of funding. Instead you can read the interview on my publications page.