Edinburgh Fringe 2009
Le Navet Bete are a foursome who bring a lot of clowning, audience banter, knockabout acrobatics to a tenuously linked love story, in a one hour, fast-paced show.
Prepare yourself for an overdose of cartwheels, double-takes, "who’s behind you?" gags, clowning, visual and vocal gags, and a story of the quest for a lost mannequin, centred on a bowler-hatted man in a suit with a unique car, and a strange taste in women.
There’s plenty to watch in in this production, in what often seems like a collage of vignettes – both physical and verbal. There’s a loose tale upon which it all hangs, a quest for a lost love, with much distraction along the way. Zemblanity are four very able performers, who share a world of the surreal and the absurd. Many ideas and motifs run into each other to the delight of many in the audience and the bemusement of some.
A portion of the audience were clearly a "home crowd" and this was distracting, sometimes making me feel I was an uninvited guest at someone else’s party. Not all of the banter between the suited man on stage and selected audience members made the rest of the audience feel involved. There’s a balance to be struck here between a genuinely disconcerting breaking of the fourth wall, and in-joke self-indulgence.
The troupe are to be commended on the sheer breadth of forms employed, the poise of the central character and the wonderful physical chaos (always under skilled control) created by the supporting and very physical, clownish threesome.
If this were a self-professed homage to the genre, it would represent a more impressive effort. However, a lot of it seems derivative and lacking originality, even as it entertains and delights many in the audience. The look-behind-you’s, the love of a mannequin, the stepping into an evasive pool of light, the backstage entrances and exits – all have been done many times before. The inventive parts of the show are the strength and it would be great if the group gives themselves permission in the future to invent their own more unique material. They certainy have the skill for it. Some of the clowning monologues and two-handed parts were the most refreshing in the production.
Overall, a lot of fun, skilled chaos, which I hope will develop into something that seeks to break new ground in the months ahead.