Network Theatre, Waterloo, London 07/02/2020
A woman appears in a fur hat and coat, hot pants and bowling shoes. “What are there two of which are not arms?” she asks. “LEGS. LEGS. LEGS.” we chant in monotone, eyes shining. Julia Masli and the Duncan Brothers have brought their travelling Cut of the Leg to the strange industrial netherworld of the Network Theatre for the Vault Festival, and the late night Friday audience are reacting as if they’ve been starved of this content all their lives. Which may be the case, given that there’s a significant American delegation in attendance, and they don’t get much Gaulier over there.
Legs is a kind of exercise in absurdist mindfulness, meditating on the language and image of the leg over a series of vignettes, which stray in greater or lesser degrees from the central conceit according to whatever might be funny. In an early set piece, Masli does a series of unusual leg-based dances, then turns her knees into faces with marker pen and sunglasses. In another, the Duncan Brothers do a news report, notionally about legs, where the joke is more about an innovative recreation of audio delay on live news broadcasts, and ends with a few minutes of slapping each other in the face.
Enjoyment will probably depend on the buy-in from the audience, and a slightly boozy late night crowd is highly recommended. Chants of “LEGS” were solicited often enough, but occasionally popped up unprompted from the excited crowd, and there were obliging gasps and OMGs every time a small model pair of legs was produced for a demonstration.
Masli and the Duncan’s surf that wave expertly, bringing exactly the right level of hammy showmanship to the presentation, although each with a slightly different style. Julia performs with a confident knowing smile like a fortune teller revealing the secrets of one very specific part of the universe. Robert Duncan has maybe the most effective stage presence, dressed like Lucifer but behaving like an earnest small town priest, espousing the many virtues of legs in a strange methodical rhythm that makes him sound like he’s reading from cue cards. For his brother Andrew, it feels like they haven’t quite nailed the persona. He creeps around the stage nearly nude in a Smeagol-ish way, but his performance highlights the slightly route-one clowning elements that will be familiar to anyone who sees a lot of this stuff. In particular, having a male performer spend most of the show in skin-tight underwear (ideally with a small piss spot on the front) is quickly becoming the airplane food joke of modern clowning.
Not to say that it isn’t effective, only that, like the show as a whole, it sometimes feels like it sustains itself through brute force rather than inventiveness. The scores are on the door though – if you like the idea of a show based entirely around legs, you’ll like this show a lot. The audience celebrated with an appropriately standing ovation.
Legs is at the Vault Festival until Sunday.