The Clown of Clown‘s is part of The Arcola‘s annual Grimeborn Festival, a series that showcases some of the more experimental offerings from the world of classical opera and ballet. Historically, the clown and the melancholic have always been close relations, particularly in literature. Whether Shakespeare’s fool, hounding Lear with intimations of mortality or Heinrich Böll’s clown, an alcoholic squandering his talents and pining after his ex wife, the jester has often been deployed as a powerful, ironic symbol for the unattainability of human happiness. Constella Ballet & Orchestra‘s production taps into this dark heritage, exploring the sinister side of the mythical fool, their experimental approach yields thrilling results.
Billed as an ‘Opera-ballet circus spectacular’ The Clown of Clowns couples two productions . The first is Pierrot Lunaire, Schoenberg’s expressionist melodrama. Performed in the original German with new choreography by Alfred Taylor-Gaunt, the ensemble work hard to make this a sinister experience; the narrator bringing a particularly sadistic quality to the show as she gloats over the clown’s despairing collapse.
The set is stripped down to a blank canvas. The only ornamentation comes by way of the formally clad orchestra performing in the background, their faces a picture of indifference as the tragedy unfolds. The presence of the orchestra is probably compelled by space constraints (The Arcola’s studio Two is an intimate setting) but their involvement has an oddly disturbing effect that enhances the drama. The sight of these impassive instrumentalists brings to mind the idea of universal indifference in the face of human suffering.
The Lachrymose atmosphere gives way to something frenzied after the interval. The second half (mercifully performed in English) brings us Sideshows, Leo Geyer‘s award winning, jazz inspired musical. We are ushered to our seats by a whip wielding conductor who proceeds to introduce his wayward orchestra. The musicians have swapped their white ties for dresses, raggedy garments and clown make-up; their sinister presence remains undiminished.
What follows is a series of vaguely tragic, always macabre vignettes as a motley group of circus performers enact their tales. Expect sad words from a gypsy palm reader and a bearded lady. A particular highlight is the dancing bear, who opens his part with the pitiable and thoroughly unconvincing wail, ‘I’m much happier than you might think”.
As the conductor loses his helm on the show, the acts collapse into each other, filling the room with a brilliant sense of chaos. Despite a heavy degree of slapstick, the jokes have a knowing, tongue in cheek quality, as if the show is poking fun at the hyperbole of it’s own format.
The climax may seem somewhat rushed and the production is rough around the edges at parts, but the passion of the cast more than compensate. These tragic figures will certainly bring a smile to your face. 4/5
Review written by Sean Gilbert.
The Clown of Clowns is currently showing at the Arcola Theatre (Grimeborn Festival 2015) until Saturday 8th August For more information on the production, visit here…