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Digital Programme: Flesh

A person wearing a bandage around their head leans over another performer while sitting on a sofa.

Discover more about the show and the creative team behind it in the digital programme, featuring an interview with co-directors Sophie Linsmaux and Aurelio Mergola.

Welcome to the Barbican for this year’s London International Mime Festival, guaranteed to brighten the dark days of January.

We’re delighted to be working again with Helen Lannaghan and Joseph Seelig – the festival’s directors – to bring four exciting and very different productions to the Theatre and The Pit between 24 January and 5 February, as well as screening The Unknown in Barbican Cinema 1 on 29 January. The circus-set melodrama is one of the greatest silent films of all time, starring ‘the man of a thousand faces’, Lon Chaney, and a young Joan Crawford.

We’re thrilled to be presenting international work on our stages once again. In the Theatre, Still Life, rising stars of Belgium’s acclaimed contemporary theatre scene, present the UK premiere of Flesh, a playful, disruptive drama about our need for affection and recognition. This is followed by Olivier Award-winning dance theatre innovators Peeping Tom, who return to the Barbican with the UK premiere of Triptych (The Missing Door, The Lost Room and The Hidden Floor), their new and most ambitious production yet.

In The Pit, Canada’s The Old Trout Puppet Workshop make their Barbican debut with Famous Puppet Death Scenes, a series of macabre vignettes featuring a range of different types of puppets perishing in a range of different ghoulish ways. This is followed by Dorothy James and Andy Manjuck’s Bill’s 44th, a poignant puppet tragi-comedy for grown-ups created in pre-vaccine pandemic times.

Whether you’re here to see one, some or all of this year’s London International Mime Festival shows, we hope you have a fantastic time.

Toni Racklin, Head of Theatre and Dance, the Barbican.


Welcome to the UK debut of one of Belgium’s most innovative visual theatre groups.

Acclaimed at last year’s Avignon Festival, Still Life’s wordless, dark burlesque in four short acts forces us to think about end of life, about how much we need other people. Prompting appalled but helpless laughter, Flesh inhabits a similar universe to that of director Mike Leigh, or sculptor Ron Mueck.

Now in its 47th year, the Mime Festival is once again proud to partner with the Barbican in presenting exceptional international artists in London.

Helen Lannaghan and Joseph Seelig, directors of London International Mime Festival (LIMF).


Image credit: Hubert Amiel

About the show

Flesh celebrates bodies, whether they are weak or strong, made-over and natural, alone or together. For better or for worse, we are cloaked in flesh, inseparable from it: flesh makes a human incarnate in the world.

From a wedding anniversary party to a hospital room, a virtual reality experience to a family reunion in a cafe, this visual and non-verbal piece is a contemporary fable that examines the deep meaning to our flesh. With humour, eccentricity and vigour, the performers movingly show us that there is only a short distance between our bruised and our living flesh.

Flesh met en jeu des corps faibles ou accomplis, transformés ou normés, solitaires ou réunis. Enraciné à son enveloppe charnelle pour le meilleur et pour le pire, l'être humain est indissociable de cette chair, incarnation de son être au monde. Pourtant, aujourd’hui, cet ancrage tend à disparaître.

D'une fête d'anniversaire de mariage à une chambre d'hôpital, d'une expérience de réalité virtuelle à une réunion de famille dans un café. Flesh est un spectacle visuel et non verbal, une fable contemporaine qui plonge le/la spectateur-rice dans l'épaisseur de nos chairs. Avec humour et étrangeté, la compagnie Still Life nous remue de façon vivifiante: de nos chairs meurtries à nos chairs en vie, il n'y a qu'un pas.

Sophie Linsmaux and Aurelio Mergola of Still Life

About Still Life

Aurelio Mergola and Sophie Linsmaux create playful, disruptive shows which mix humour and quirkiness.

Since 2011, they have been working on constructing a unique on-stage language. Two heads are better than one for the duo, and their fruitful creative collaboration has enabled them to take a more long-term approach.

Through their productions, they develop their own form of carefully written visual theatre. In their dialogue-free plays, they dissect a world in which everything is going very, very wrong. They set about distorting time, and revealing our bodies and emotions. Deprived of worlds, their theatre represents and interrogates a world in which humanity is in jeopardy as it tries to find meaning and purpose at all costs.

Since their very first project, they have wanted to surround themselves with a tight-knit group of partners (or partners in crime!) who help to sow the seeds of their theatre projects. They work closely together at every stage, from conception to completion.

Since July 2019, Still Life has been an associate artist at Théâtre Les Tanneurs, Brussels.

About The London International Mime Festival

London International Mime Festival (LIMF) promotes contemporary visual theatre. Its productions have been nominated for, and won, Olivier Awards, and in 2017 the festival was honoured with the Empty Space - Peter Brook Special Achievement Award for its work over four decades. Founded in 1977, LIMF is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation. 

'The brilliant annual festival of visual theatre, dance, circus and puppetry’ The Guardian

A person has gone into labour. Two people hold her up in support. They are wearing black as if having attended a funeral.

Cast and creative team

Muriel Legrand
Sophie Linsmaux
Aurelio Mergola
Jonas Wertz 

Creative team
Concept and Direction Sophie Linsmaux and Aurelio Mergola
Writers Sophie Linsmaux, Aurelio Mergola and Thomas van Zuylen
Spatial Installation Sophie Leso
Set Design Aurélie Deloche, assisted by Rudi Bovy and Sophie Hazebrouck
Props Noémie Vanheste
Costumes Camille Collin
Lighting Guillaume Toussaint Fromentin
Light Technician Gwenaël Laroche
Sound Eric Ronsse
Voiceover Stéphane Pirard
Masks and Puppets Joachim Jannin
Set Design Trainee Farouk Abdoulaye
Seamstress Cinzia Derom
Technical Direction Nicolas Olivier
General Assistant Sophie Jallet
Stage Manager Charlotte Persoons 

Administration and Production Marion Couturier
International Development and Distribution Aurora Nova and Wolfgang Hoffman

A Still Life production

Executive producer Théâtre Les Tanneurs (Brussels)

Co-produced by Centre culturel de Huy (Belgium); Kinneksbond Centre culturel Mamer (Luxembourg); La Coop asbl & Shelter Prod (Brussels)

With the support of the Ministry of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation Theatre Department, Théâtre national Wallonie-Bruxelles,, ING tax-shelter of the Belgian Federal Government, Wallonia Brussels International

Created with the help of the Centre des Arts scéniques (Mons), Bloom Project (Brussels), Festival Liège, du Théâtre Le 140 (Brussels)

Presented by the Barbican in association with London International Mime Festival

A person wearing a VR headset stands with their arms in the air as if backing away from something. They stand in front of a cream curtain and, to the right-hand side, somebody sits watching them as if supervising.

An interview with Sophie Linsmaux and Aurelio Mergola

Flesh immerses the audience into four intense life experiences. Do you enjoy exploring the human capacity for resilience when faced with the intensity of these situations – but without delving into the characters’ psychology? 
Sophie Linsmaux and Aurelio Mergola: Flesh presents four independent stories. The locations and characters of each one lead us into a different world. The through line is the way the scenarios all deal with the relationship to flesh, and with interpersonal relationships.

The characters are never alone, but there is a powerful feeling of loneliness in the way each character experiences the events and is shaken by their emotions.

The audience are witness to intense situations right from the first story, which takes place in a hospital room. Each situation and set are as realistic as possible, before realism is pushed to its breaking point and dissolves into a more dreamlike atmosphere. Each story has a moment where it shifts from hyper-realism to a poetic or nightmarish vision, presented either as plausible and real or entirely imagined by the character’s subconscious.

The performance begins with a dying body, a lump of dying flesh in a hospital bed, flanked by a son and a nurse. To write that story we met healthcare professionals who work in palliative care. We wanted to be faithful to reality but also to pay homage to the features of their work, their every day gestures. In Flesh, we explore embrace and the array of gestures, from modesty to intimacy, that are used – from a comforting embrace to an utterly failed one. In the first story, And Yet, the first gesture we encounter is that of the nurse touching this dying body. On the stage there are living bodies and inanimate ones. This scene explores our cultural relationship to death and modern western societies’ often blatant inability to accompany the dying.

Can you tell us more about your writing process for this show?
We wrote this show using writing exercise constructs we’d discovered during the first lockdown period. After noting about 50 forms based on images, fictions, and situations which inspired us, we identified leitmotivs. This allowed us to build a narrative made up of four short stories. Flesh begins with a death and ends with the arrival of life. We create a cycle. We came up with a second story in the cycle, which takes place in the small apartment where Kathy and John live. They sit on the couch in their living room, about to open their wedding anniversary present: a facelift. Unfortunately, Kathy doesn’t like this idea. We dive into searching their obsessions and fears, until the unthinkable happens.

As creators, we like to question the sensation of the demiurgic power that men can have over their environment, their own bodies, their flesh. We explore this here through the aesthetics and codes of horror movies.

With Flesh, we leave a story and enter the next one very abruptly; this shift is accompanied by a soundtrack which enables the audience to approach the new narrative and to experience a rising intensity throughout the show. The third scene is called Love Room: this is a place where one can strap on a VR helmet to experience virtual reality alone. The flesh of the ‘other’ is physically absent, but the sensations are concrete and real. The audience become voyeurs of the experience Dora goes through. We don’t know what she sees, but we see the impact of those images and situations on her. She experiences sensations outside of her body or her flesh.

Flesh ends with a family reunion in a neighbourhood cafe. Embrace is the story of a broken family where no one speaks to anyone else anymore, but they have to come together again for a funeral. Their only means of communication is violence, their heightened physical aggressiveness triggered by an involuntary feature by one of the siblings which leads to a sort of unwanted contact. A spontaneous brawl is a substitute for their inability to hug and comfort each other.

The stage is built like a box that can quickly open and close to move from one tableau to the next. The sequence of scenes creates a dialogue and the audience are free to interpret the links between them.

Your theatre is non-verbal, but far from non-vocal or silent.
Indeed. The experiences we show have no need for words and debates, but they of course need breath. Breath is the source of life, of emotion, of communication. The soundscape of Flesh plays a large part in conveying meaning, in particular during those shifts from hyper-realism to fantasy.

It’s important in our creative process. We work layer by layer, step by step, starting with silence, or rather with the noises created by the bodies of the actors at work, and by the objects being manipulated. Beyond the soundtrack, which helps create a fantastical atmosphere, all the other noises in the play are diegetic and caused by the actions. To create a scene, we use a method based on physical practice where we write down and choreograph series of movements and gestures, and refine them over time. We share a number of tools with our actors that let us approach space and time in the same way. Every feature is meticulously described, from its duration to the direction the body has to face. Even before we can experience it on the stage, we start thinking about the relationship to rhythm – the intrinsic rhythm of each tableau and the rhythm of the play as whole. It’s an indispensable element of our writing process, it’s there as soon as we start writing, from beginning to end. Events, facts and gestures are concrete, the situations that arise are rather extreme. With this physical score, the protagonists experience emotions. And we enter into their reactions, into their flesh… That’s what we like. From skin to flesh, from the surface to the most intimate experiences, we’re trying to burst the bubble of distance.

This is abridged from an interview published by the Festival d’Avignon Festival, and is reproduced with thanks.


A person wearing a bandage around their head sits on a sofa, while another person kneels in front of them and pulls at the skin on their face.

Read: The Word Made Flesh

‘We wanted to create a theatre without words that was meaningful'. 

In this Total Theatre article, discover more about the creation of Flesh from Still Life's founders and co-directors Sophie Linsmaux and Aurelio Mergola.

For the Barbican

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Tom Bloxham MBE, Stephanie Camu , Tony Chambers , Cas Donald, Tracey Harrison , Jeff Holland , David Kapur, Ann Kenrick, Kendall Langford, Alasdair Nisbet, Tom Sleigh and Sian Westerman 

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