Despite seven years of Fringe-going, I’ve somehow never stumbled across a bona fide mime show. Enter Petrol, a commentary on the dehumanising pressures of the modern world, which gave me the full white-gloved experience – but with added welding masks. And what a bafflingly inaccessible show it proved to be.
It’s a simple premise: after a brief fantasy scene in which a carefree couple grow flowers and generally gallivant around the stage with see-through clothing on, things take a turn for the worse. The audience is presented with a dystopian world of monochrome, masked faces and, in a nod to Radiohead, a voice booming out “in better shape, happier and more productive” at intervals. Worse still, the two worker drones are unable to confess their love for each other, as they are both too shy to express themselves and the few times they try to do so triggers an alarm.
Instead, time passes as they work harder and harder performing mindlessly repetitive tasks. There’s even a flower, with black petals to match the colour scheme, which the woman fusses over.
It’s an interesting concept, and over a shorter set with some fine-tuning could have been charming, but it goes on far too long. In many of the scenes it was also very difficult to work out what was happening, which made for quite a tedious performance.
There were glimmers of humour – such as when the woman lost control of the sprayer as she obsessively tried to water her plant – but for me this never developed into something that was genuinely funny. Some parts I just found downright confusing, such as when the man mimed pleasuring himself.
Beneath the stylised movements it was often difficult to follow the story and I felt Petrol fell short of its intentions. The actors put a lot of effort into the performance – with sweat quite literally dripping down their masks – but it just didn’t work for me.