French mime artist, Marcel Marceau, has died, aged 84. I saw him perform in London when I was a child. He was magical on stage – able to create entire worlds with the power of gesture. He made you laugh, he made you cry, he made you sit with your mouth open in wonder. Marceau defined mime at such an elevated level he made me realise there is poetry in silence.
I only discovered today that he survived the horror of the concentration camps. His father died in Auschwitz in 1944. It has been observed that one of the most striking characteristics of Holocaust survivors is their silence surrounding their experiences. When asked if this inspired his work, he said :
“The people who came back from the camps couldn’t talk about it…maybe that has counted, subconsciously, in my choice of silence.”
There is a poignancy in that choice that has made me weep this morning. To turn something so terrible you cannot speak of it into such beauty, such joy, is true art. Farewell, Monsieur Marceau, and thank you for the sense of the marvellous you instilled in me as a child. A moment’s noise, please !