Edinburgh Fringe 2012
Howard Payne University, a Christian College from the US, presents a wonderful performance in a tough to tell tale of how Joseph Grimaldi became the clown and major influence that he did. Using dance, slapstick and simple storytelling these young actors combine a great number of skills to delight the audience and tell a great story very well.
Joseph Grimaldi, one of two brothers in his father’s pantomime grows from being part of his father’s production to eventually overtaking him and then eclipsing him. As his father was an extremely difficult man, Jo was forced to deal with beatings, defending his father to his brother who eventually leaves for a life that would appear to be based on crime and then learn from his father the artistic lessons which gave him his legacy. In amongst this Jo marries and has to deal with falling out of love with the theatre until his audience demand his return. His return comes with the tears of a clown, a new way of making yourself up and the death in childbirth of his first wife.
This is a lovely piece of writing well matched to the young cast. It tells the story in the spirit and also with the language of the 19th Century without being too dense to penetrate. Obviously it takes some liberties with the actual story – Jo’s dad died when he was nine but The Crucible never suffered because of that! The young actors begin with a pantomime under the guidance of the father and they are competent at this. There are a few wobbles but the gentle enthusiasm of the cast pull you through. By the time Jo takes over and you see a similar pantomime the cast have upped the ante and it is far more polished. This is an incredible skill and evidence of fantastic technique within such a young cast. Some of the performances are delightfully observed with Rivers Shotwell and Josh Helms in particular fantastic. They gave us a full range for each character. Some of the dancing was a little ropy but again you were forgiving as it came with such gusto.
The staging of the piece is portrayed through the costume. This is very believable and adds to the entire effect. The costumes are well observed though let us be honest – how could you do any play about clowns in drab costume? The values onstage are high. This is a company whose technique is added to by a feeling of ensemble joy. They work for each other and combine to work for us.
In terms of it adding much to the genre it represents, there’s not much there to add. What it does do is showcase appropriately and well the young American cast. I mentioned earlier that this was a Christian University. Ordinarily this would not have drawn me to the production, but on the evidence of this it would have been prejudicial and just so wrong. They have fun and so do you and though some of the historical facts may be lost I did leave feeling that I had seen a performance that was worth my time. It will be worth yours too.