Monday 27 July 2009

Review: Serious Play

Serious Play, Modern Clown Performance
by Louise Peacock, (Intellect Books 2009)

As a specialist in the field of clown (as a practitioner and an academic), I was excited when I recently learned of this book's imminent publication. There are so few rigorously written studies of clown that I was ready to welcome any contributions to the serious study of this complex art form.

Having read the book, I am astounded and appalled that such a shoddy piece of work could get past the publisher's checks. The published text is based on the author's PhD thesis, but the writing would hardly bear up to scrutiny on an undergraduate level.

Apart from being very poorly written from a point of view of style and clarity of thought, the text contains several factual errors, such as the lumping of Chaplin into the category of Hobo Clowns, a form which the author rightly states was born in the 1920s. Chaplin's tramp character (NOT the same as a Hobo), as everyone knows, had been appearing in films throughout the previous decade.

The author devotes a large section to discussing the clown activist work of CIRCA, but neglects to mention that the founders of CIRCA have long ago abandoned this project, declaring it to be an untenable position.

The basic assumption of the book, that clown is equivalent to play, is never justified, and ignores the large amount of clown work done in recent years that rejects the usefulness of play theory to clowning.

If this had been published some 20 or more years ago, it might have had some resonance, but today it reads as a poorly researched personal reaction to a handful of shows rather than a rigorous study.

I do not understand how someone with apparently very limited knowledge or experience of clown (the author has done a workshop with Angela da Castro, seen Slava's Snowshow a number of times, and very little else) has managed to get such a misleading work into the marketplace.