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.

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