It’s been dubbed Die Hard meets The Office and is coming to the Fringe. Claire Smith travels to Iceland to watch a truly spectacular show
This is the first time I have had a breakthrough performance here. I really feel it.” I’m sitting in a bar in Reykjavik with Kristján Ingimarsson and the other three members of Blam! The night before, their show without words – a huge spectacular comic-book caper set in an office – played to a standing ovation and rapturous applause in one of Reykjavik’s biggest theatres.
Blam! has already been a roaring success in Denmark, and is now on its way to the Edinburgh Fringe. Ingimarsson, who is Icelandic, says the enthusiasm of the audience is typical of the mercurial likes and dislikes of the people in this land of fire and ice.
“Things happen like that in Iceland,” he says. “If you get there it happens quicker and everybody has to see it. Things go quickly in Iceland. People are used to it. The country is constantly changing.”
Coming to Edinburgh is a risk, but Ingimarsson hopes audiences here will also love the show, in which the tension between four office workers explodes and the desk slaves transform into action movie stars, superheroes and comic-book characters.
Blam! has been described as Die Hard meets The Office – although the producers also hope the Copenhagen-based company will pull in fans of Danish TV crime drama. But in many ways the show is more in tune with the vogue for non-verbal comedy typified by Doctor Brown and The Boy With Tape On His Face – with some pretty breathtaking physical stunts.
“It is a language – action movie language – but played big,” says Ingimarsson.
“People get the references. They get the game that we are playing. They understand the joy of playing.”
In a performance which takes in circus skills, puppetry, free running and martial arts, the whole office comes alive – lamps begin to move, file cases turn into body armour and the water fountain has a whole narrative of its own.
It’s super violent, but in a way which is funny. And there are subtle changes of pace which bring out the human side of the boss, who really just wants the chance to play with the boys.
The performers have developed their own language. When, during the interview, I lose my keys in my bag they start imagining I might have a giraffe and a house inside and they start yelling out: “Hey that’s a Blam!” “Yes and that could be a Blam!”
Circus-trained Lars Gregersen says that while the huge spectacular stunts have to be right it is also crucial to keep the audience engaged when the action is small. “It is easy when it becomes very, very big, but it is when it is small that timing becomes more important. People need to see and understand what is going on.”
Joen Højerslev, a Danish classical actor with a penchant for extreme sports and martial arts, plays the boss. “In our office the boss is the one getting bullied,” he says. “He wants to be part of the team and part of the social life but they leave him out. That is what gives him the volcano feeling. He doesn’t get the opportunity to let off steam like the other guys do.”
During our meeting Hojerslev gets a finger-wagging from director Simon Boberg for going out ski jumping before the performance. In a show as physical as this one it is important that the cast avoid injury. But you get the feeling the director is just singing in the wind. Blam! is such a joyful outpouring of male energy it must be almost impossible to stuff all that testosterone back in the bag.
The UK-based producer Glynis Hall tells me how much she has enjoyed watching the reaction of the female members of the audience. On the night we see the show there are a group of older women who are shaking with laughter watching fully grown men being little boys. French cast member Didier Oberlé, who comes from a street running, parkour background says: “It’s very fun to do. I get a little nervous before going on stage but we get into the office the action starts to build up and you get exhilarated at the end.”
“It shows that it is OK to be childish but it is also OK to be a man,” says Hojerslev. “It has become an issue in Denmark how to be a modern man, people are so stressed, the man has to be so many different things. Women tell us it is nice to see the show because it tells you what is going on in men’s heads.”
Movie fans and cartoon lovers should enjoy spotting the visual references – to Star Wars, Apocalypse Now, Judge Dredd, and Goodfellas. When Blam! was first shown in Denmark it was a lot more violent, but the current version is more high energy slapstick played for laughs. Hojerslev says he thinks Fringe audiences will get the joke. “The Danish humour and the UK humour is very much alike.”
It was Ingimarsson who originally put the cast together in 2011 with the idea of creating a show which played with film and comic-book archetypes. The idea of setting the action in an office came second – from the notion of finding a setting everyone could relate to.
“Most people work in a kind of office,” says Ingimarsson. “Even artists and performers. Everybody is sitting there with their computers. Our working space has been compromised so much; it is so impersonal, but people just accept it. Our job as artists is to look at things from a different perspective.”
But as well as pure masculinity in all its idiotic glory, Blam! has a warm and unexpectedly moving message about the transformative power of play. “It’s also about telling people they can change something,” says Ingimarsson.
“Even something as simple as an office – to take something like that and switch it all around. It gives people an opportunity to see we can change whatever. When I was a kid here in Iceland we would play with anything. A sheep’s jawbone would become a gun. That is how we grew up. Anything can be anything.”
Blam! is at the Pleasance Courtyard, 31 July until 26 August, as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.