Brighton Fringe 2023
“Juggling with techniques of improv, dance and mime, physical comedian Chris Cresswell flicks you beyond reason into a puddle of laughter. This is a man with a nose for fun, and he likes to keep it clean. He plucks the art of theatre clown out of thin air and moulds it to his will. With the help of his Age is a Stage theatre company, Chris has sniffed out a delightful seam of humour amongst the elders of the parish. Together they have devised a stream of playful adventures spanning hilarity and pathos, unlike anything you will have seen this year. Watch us play in the gorgeous shabby chic of The Bosco”
Chris Cresswell and Age is a Stage have put together an ensemble clown show of set pieces and vignettes that clearly delighted the packed house at the Bosco Theatre, a perfect circus, semi-round space for these kinds of shenanigans.
Age is a Stage is a company of performers who might be described as “in their later phase of earth-bound biography”, but are clearly young at heart and body if this performance was anything to go by. With twirling umbrellas, dancing waiters, knockabout clown and laugh aloud set pieces, this is all conducted like a laissez -faire (and hands on at just the right times) conductor – the undoubted style of the consummate skilled clown himself, Chris Cresswell’s and his well modulated live direction, commentary and compering.
Cresswell banters with the audience and the ever-ready and willing cast throughout, a fully present troupe who deliver their co-devised set pieces with confidence and a kind of magical calm even with things going a bit off-kilter and occasionally lurching even offstage. That occasional “teetering on the edge” enriches the show.
Clown doesn’t have to be all deliberate. Improvisation is key and the magic lights up because everyone stays on song and doesn’t corpse. This cast held it together and that was part of the spectacle.
Cresswell improvises around a more or less hinged structure but it all serves the piece well. It was certainly lean-in for the audience and one of two of those leant in so sar they were called onto the stage to participate. A bit of circus crept in here, some of the music-backdropped mime was charming, on occasion moving, with a naughty wink, a side glance for a snigger and plenty of whoops of delight at spoken comedy sketch dialogue, set piece movement and front-on audience connection.
It was a variety show and these performers (none are paid professionals but that doesn’t mean they were amateur, if you get my drift), were totally committed, delivered the goods and even achieved touchingly beautiful moments with some very together ballet-like twirling umbrellas.
Age is a Stage goes literally beyond the nose as the default red nose of the clown was almost totally exchanged for physical and vocal comedy that was more rooted in real life than the circus ring, solo one moment, one on one, the next and all together the next. Variety gave it spice and interest. Scenes changed quickly, Cresswell embraced his herd of able performers who, on occasion, threatened to bolt off into an adjoining field. It was rough in parts but that worked for the whole. Things weren’t meant to be perfect and neither are clowns. But there was enough commitment and skill and rousing and engaged response from the involved audience to ensure the whole affair was a successful collaboration.
I applaud these daring matures who made age both a virtue and irrelevant to the quality of the show before us. I call it daring but not in a patronising sense. They were brave, these men and women who stuffed things down their shirts (in a moment of hilarious burlesque-ish vaudeville) and leapt about on stage without a care in the world (or for the front row). Some of the clown was particularly strong for being understated in places. Clearly with more time for bedding in the physical timing and precisions that set pieces require, the show will improve beyond an already creditable level. In parts the lack of togetherness or unplanned overlap led to a bit of confusion but it didn’t last long.
Overall, this was a spectacle, the strings held together wisely by Cresswell, our host, conductor and would-be truant, some time off stage, sometimes onstage showing his own clown and circus mastery only minimally to give the stage to his elder team, and why not? Occasionally it felt that those strings were attached to the performers who were willing balloons, floating together above the Fringe on a calm day. And then, (and this was part of the design methinks), the wind whipped up and some of those balloons attempted to escape. Cresswell clung on for dear life, and managed to hold it all together.
Performances were uniformly good, the quality consistent across the team and as a team they truly worked. That was part of the huge value of the piece and its inherent delight for us, the onlookers.
The genuine and lasting ovation from the audience confirmed that we all willingly went beyond the nose to who knows where? I came out of the Bosco smiling, warmed, inspired, discombobulated, and I am smiling again now as I write this review.