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Honours all round for the performer you can’t pin down

PUBLISHED: 15:27 30 January 2008 | UPDATED: 11:30 01 July 2010

It seems a long time has passed since the days of 60s alternative theatre, where untrained hippies took over arts centres and pubs to create a challenge to po-faced professionals

It seems a long time has passed since the days of 60s alternative theatre, where untrained hippies took over arts centres and pubs to create a challenge to po-faced professionals and their productions of Boeing Boeing.

Some of these performers have become superstars. A few, like Nola Rae, have just gone on doggedly developing their acts and have now become a peculiar peephole into the past. Nola has found time to add clowning and puppetry to her mime and ballet skills, and has developed what you might call a new performance classification, Balimpupclowning, which TimeOut struggles to categorise, but the Queen was in no doubt that she deserved an MBE for her "services to drama and mime".

So here we are at the Purcell Room, on the South Bank, surrounded by enthusiastic teenagers to see what the fuss is all about. Latecomers are turned to comic advantage as Nola shows her deadpan clowning skills.

A simple white tent and a rosewood desk are all she needs to create the Mozart family home. Papa Leo appears and after discovering the puppet baby's musical bent he forces the child on a round of his rich patrons to entertain them and earn money. This is child abuse pure and simple but Wolfgang survives and learns to pocket the takings for himself as he grows up. Unfortunately, his peculiar upbringing has robbed him of a childhood and he now cannot grow up and mature until he has played out all his juvenile tricks (and he has a wealth of them).

Highlight of the show is a hilarious scene where he suffers from writer's block and spends five minutes re-arranging his desk to kill time until inspiration strikes. Shades of Charlie Chaplin here, and there is something of Mr Pastry about her hangdog look that takes you back a few years.. Director John Mowat has incorporated Mozart's fabulous music to good effect. Sometimes, the use of puppets, mime and clowning at the same time leads0 to a loss of focus but it ensures you are never bored.

The delight with which the audience greeted Ms Rae MBE at the end proves that if you stick at it long enough, not only will you get your just desserts, you will also come back into fashion.

Edward Martyn

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