Brighton Fringe 2015
Directed by Mick Barnfather (Complicite), Dan Lees offers an hour of madcap, slapstick, absurd clown, verbal and physical craziness, laced with a shot of profundity.
Dan Lees breaks his silence during this show, just was we think we are in for an hour of silent clown and absurd comedy. This is the only spoiler in this review, and I mention it because it lies at the heart of a very funny production. You never quite know if or when Lees is going to speak. He can hold a look that gets giggles just from a slight twitch of his face. There were whoops, guffaws, feet stamping and plenty of deliciously bemused silent curiosity among the audience at the Warren Theatre Box.The moments of silence did not always benefit from the noise bleed from outside. It is a testament to Dan Lees as a performer that he held attention and focus so well throughout.
Lees draws us into simple narratives; once we are in they become enormously immersive and even significant for some audience members, and a few don’t even know they are verbally joining in as well, so drawn in are they. Other audience members hang back and two, to my right, one row in front, were stony faced and looked as if they were being tortured. It made me wonder why they had chosen to see Brainchild. For this is clearly billed as the madcap-absurd. You’ll have to want to see that not to risk wondering what kind of planet you have stumbled onto.
Lees plays with the normal, gives it a spiritual-origami fold, a twist and a turn and suddenly a move or a mundane sentence is an act of comedy genius. Here less becomes more and Lees his a master of simplicity, of bare minimal clown. It’s warm hearted, not cruel. The audience involvement is inclusive even as we are gently berated or chalenged. Lees switches between the lost, enquiring clown and the assertive deliverer. He takes a run up to a single syllable and plays with his material as if it is a random switchback railway. Yet, underneath, there is a design to it all. Some of the set pieces really stand out (I can’t tell you what they are – I refuse). A few work less well. But the average is always better than good.
Lees plays silent comedy with ease and skill, tinkers with verbal timing and makes a phrase into an effective, longer routine. We are offered choices, asked for responses, we sometimes sit back and savour his skills as a clown. Absurd, surreal, abstract and occasionally rather coherent, this is a variety show with one performer. It goes for the funny bone that doesn’t always know what has tickled it. Lees makes members of the audience laugh in spite of themselves. That’s impressive comedy.
I enjoyed the flirtations with philosophy, with his use of left and right to set up opposition and polarity. Props were used selectively and tellingly. My only criticism is the unevenness of some of the material. Even the unevenness is a little uneven in places and that makes for a drop in energy in here and there, a feeling of inconsitency in the pitch for laughs or reaction. There is some pruning and development to be done here that will only improve an already very good show. But there is more than enough here already to delight you and split your sides if you like your comedy absurd, if you enter into the spirit of it. I did. And I am happy to recommend it.