Preview: The Boy With Tape On His Face

Tape Face’s talent for engaging audiences is down to his experience of working on the streets, writes Marissa Burgess

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Tape Face, the artist previously known as The Boy With Tape On His Face, has got something special planned for his UK tour. The silent props comedian, who is like a cross between Edward Scissorhands and Marcel Marceau, is probably best known for competing in America’s Got Talent, where his entirely speechless appearances at first bemused and then delighted the judges.

Whether you’ve seen him live or just on the telly, you’ll know he can make a routine out of random items plucked from his man bag and an extensive soundtrack, perhaps a red dress seduction to Lady in Red or a pair of oven gloves getting it on to the strains of Endless Love.

The latest tour is a mixture of old and new material but given the full theatricals. This time he has a producer and set designer on board too. “It’s a ‘best of’ show,” explains Sam Wills, the chatty man behind the taped up silence. “There are a few other routines that have been in other shows and a couple of ideas that wouldn’t work in a comedy show because they’re just too big and too theatrical, so it was a joy to pop those in. This one has a storyline in it and there’s a clear arc of what’s going on.”

Wills started off as a street performer, and having won an award in his native New Zealand, he decided he would take a different direction. “Everyone was expecting me to carry on doing these talking sideshow stunts so that was why the silent character came about. I went down to my local comedy club, had my silent character all set and I lasted about 45 seconds before I made a comment about someone in the audience and got a cheap laugh and thought, ‘I’ve ruined it!’ I went back the next night and was joking with a comic about maybe the only way to shut up would be to gaffa tape my mouth, and it worked.”

The act hinges on audience participation – many of the routines rely on it entirely – and Wills’ ability to spot a willing but not too keen volunteer is a skill honed from his many years as a street performer. In one routine Wills absents himself entirely to sit with the crowd while another performer on stage, dressed in a hard hat and hi-vis, responds to the strains of You Can Leave Your Hat On. Sometimes though, they’re a little too enthusiastic. “One time he started taking off his own clothes in front of the whole crowd,” laughs Wills. “He appreciated the audience were absolutely disgusted and at the same time thought it absolutely wonderful that he went for it.”

Interaction in this show “is still very very high”. But don’t worry, there’s nothing bullying about it; even the most shrinking of violets tend to want to get involved as Wills creates such a warm atmosphere. Besides, how threatening can a silenced man be?

The Boy With Tape On His Face is at The Lowry Theatre, 7-9 September

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