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Brighton Fringe 2021

Bag Lady

New Venture Theatre, Brighton

Genre: Clown, Family, Mime, New Writing, One Person Show, Theatre, Theatrical Clown

Venue: New Venture Theatre Studio


Low Down

Sarah Davies’ Bag Lady, co-devised by her, David Tutton and Brenda Bishop and directed by Tutton and Bishop, is given in its embryonic form – with NVT House lighting and tech support. Till May 23rd, two shows that day, 16.30 and 19.30.


After a year’s drought, New Venture Theatre Studio takes up where Quartet (remember that?) left off in March 2020, for a very different show. It’s an occasion, a celebration. This breaks the ice.

You’re temperature-checked on entry, invited to wash your hands and during the performance you must keep masked up. There’s a very few places – again social distancing is essential. NVT prove exemplary in this. There’s no slackening rues here. Arrive in confidence.

Sarah Davies’ Bag Lady co-devised by her, David Tutton and Brenda Bishop and directed by Tutton and Bishop, is given here in its embryonic form – with NVT House lighting and tech support. As NVT state categorically, this is a scent of a show that might be, the try-out to develop, extend, further humanise the vulnerable core lurking just at the edges, as clowning should.

And bag lady Davies is first popping through a window (with a red nose) where there’s usually a door, making a range of hand movements such as being caught from behind or strangled and dropping from hat, all in a Russian muffler hat. And then through another entrance, the bag lady, looking acutely like The Lady in the Van, bowls up. And she has a picnic to tell.

This homage to Chaplin, to clowning and Ivor Cutler with the volume turned down (it gets turned up, but on a tranny) is a casque of fiery invention, a superbly poised artlessness taking Davies’ art to bring off.

It’s smokeless mirrors. There’s a cigar, certainly, though lit with all rules intact: it’s electronic. There’s only one thing else that is. This is decidedly a low-tech show. As for the mirror, well you’ll have to encounter that for yourselves.

Davies rummages about with her black and white shopping trolly, to bring out… well Russian dolls in a way to go with that Russian hat. I fact they’re other bags. Yes this bag lady actually lives up to her self-styling. Pillar-box red, white, black, smaller gold ones, little nondescript parcels, a paper bag with a rice cake in it (I fear for it too).  A rug. A cat. That grey tranny. An equally grey Tribble.

Let me unpack that. You remember the Star Trek Tribble? Ah, so this furry one is dove-grey, and in fact proves to be something else altogether. And there’s a black cat to stroke, remember. But it’s that Tribble that gives all the trouble.

There’s going too far, even with the animal that proves it’s only a part-time Tribble. Desperate remedies are required, even mouth-to-mouth. Again, best discover that animal for yourself. Davies is a dab puppet hand at animal magic.

Davies smiles winningly. In this the first performance an audience member laughs rhythmically so much I almost fear for Davies, but she keeps grinning and delivering – and laughter begets much-needed laughter.

With the show lasting only thirty-five minutes, there may be a temptation to write this off a slight. It isn’t. Davies knows exactly how to keep the show and above all the tone on the row. Laughter’s explosive. If any silent clown can turn the audience up instead, Davies can. She knows how to appeal to a human condition in all of us not far removed from Chaplin, tears of all kinds, homelessness, the exilic laughter of the truly theatrical. Though suitable for children it’s not specifically designed for them. It is though, the voyage out of an enchanter.

Again, we’re warned this is a show in embryo. It’ll be fascinating to watch how Davies grows it. Probably out of her bag. There’s an ever-present danger she might be dragged into it. Anything’s possible. This could develop into something special. Thoroughly recommended as an industrial-strength ice-breaker.