Tuesday 14 April 2009

Review: Pierre Pilatte, “Dans ma philosophie”

Antic Teatre, Barcelona,
31st January 2009

Like all great absurdists, Pierre Pilatte’s starting point is the mundane, that most ordinary kind of reality that we encounter in semi-private every day of our lives, and that seems to be the basis for our inner worlds, and hence our contact with the outer world of objects and the people that surround us.

Pilatte is an expert exponent of what we might call “clown du quotidien”. In this clown world we find the ridiculous in the most inconsequential of actions, deeds that normally go unnoticed by our own consciousness, mini-tragedies that surely should have no significance. Pilatte looks for a lighter... dozens of large boxes are thrown aside in the search, eventually he decides upon a trunk... it’s full of lamps... no matter! there is a pile of plastic cups, which he then removes one by one from the stack, thus revealing a key in very last one... the key to a box... and there it is, the lighter. Ordinary? Absurd? Not as crazy as using the lighter to smoke a chair. But the prime act of clown stupidity is then, only afterwards, to take out a packet of normal cigarettes!

“Dans ma philosophie” is a show that walks the line between madness and normality with exhilarating ease, its actions and language rivalling Ionesco at his best.

Friday 10 April 2009

Live Clown TV

Review: La Cleta i la Mandarina

Teatre Riereta, Barcelona,
2nd March 2009

This is a little gem of a kids’ show that manages to bring together some lovely clowning and some very neat magic. Magicians have a tendency to be clever folk, as the skill of misdirecting the audience’s attention is usually allied to a well-developed intellect. And that doesn’t bode well for clowning, which as we all know relies on a well-developed stupidity.

However, La Cleta achieves a marvellous unification of her two brain hemishperes, remaining utterly silly whilst completely foxing her audience... and herself! Instead of using magic to fool us and impress us with her superior skill, she uses it against herself, the joke almost always being on her.

The clowning is simple yet to the point, such as La Cleta’s exclamation of “I did it wrong!” every time she makes a mistake, or her habit of asking an audience member’s name and then claiming she is called the same: “Same as me! We’re the same!” And a wonderful example of how to be negative as a clown: whilst the two clowns do impressions that are easy to guess, La Cleta repsonds to the audience’s correct suggestions every time with a “no!” that is so innocently addressed to us that, despite it being grammatically negative, comes across as a complete affirmation.

Thursday 9 April 2009

Review: Licedei, The Family

Licedei, The Family (Semianyki)
Hackney Empire, London,
27th September 2008

Licedei are still notable for being a company that has a relatively large number of clowns onstage, compared with most exponents of clowning. “The Family” is performed by 6 performers. I have two main problems with this, despite enjoying the show immensely.

The first problem is that it is rare that clowns can remain being clowns in the company of so many. The contrasts between them become inevitably less stark, and contrast is an essential element in clowning. They begin to resemble each other too much, and a couple of the daughter characters could easily be merged or dispensed with. The second problem is with the clowning, or lack of it.

Most of what happens in "The Family" is based more on character-driven comedy or street theatre, rather than true clowning. The great exception is the youngest child, whose simple energy and joy in her own foolishness is what gives the show its heart. The brother mostly plays a lively foil, a trickster-ish prankster in constant tension with his younger sister’s innocence. But although his orchestra conductor number is particularly accomplished, it falls into the oft-seen trap of making the audience into the clowns, and the clown into the director. Fine for an average street theatre show, and entertaining enough, but clowning can aim much higher.

The weakest link is the father, whose gestures seem empty, external, with no sense of self-ridicule. And no contact with the audience. As a result he seems to have no insides, no inner world.

The mother is an altogether warmer, stronger presence, but most of what works for her is again from the realm of street comedy rather than true clowning. Her management of the audience member on the phone after the interval is perfect, but lacking innocence. Her use of dance and supposedly sexy moves quickly tires.

Of the other two daughters, I did like the still, almost autistic presence of one of them. But autism is not enough. She lacks objectives (except in the moment when she wants to answer the phone), remaining in a state of flop.

But, as I have said, although you won’t find the best clowning in the world in this show it is nonetheless extremely enjoyable, full of surprises and generally performed with a positive elan that sends you home happy.