Edinburgh Fringe 2015
Clowning and mime sketches from the engaging Henry Maynard, with the odd dark and poignant twist.
Tatterdemalion can be used as an adjective for a person in shabby clothing. It’s a marvellously onomatopoeic word and perfectly captures Henry Maynard’s appearance. Clad in a torn nightshirt and underwear of dubious lineage, he’s first spotted shoving his audience towards the very front of Assembly Roxy’s Downstairs theatre.
That he is having to do this is an interesting commentary on the relationship between the number of review stars awarded to a show and bums on seats in the audience. Whilst this would make an interesting research topic for the trio that is Festival of the Spoken Nerd, my money is on chaos theory – a random plot – generated by shows where there is a positive correlation and those like Tatterdemalion where clearly the opposite applies.
So, despite a plethora of four and five star write-ups, Maynard was forced into a sheep dog act to herd the twenty or so people who rocked up on a prime-time, Friday night slot into the front three rows, fearful perhaps that, without such a tight grouping, he couldn’t create the resultant behavioural effect from which his engaging performance clearly benefits.
Chuck people close together and group behaviour takes over. You don’t want to stand out in a crowd, so you conform. And if conforming means you join the performer on the stage and do some absurdist miming, that’s what you do. It also helps if half your audience is wearing lanyards that mark them out as Fringe participants. Pick them out as participants early on, as Maynard did, and you can get momentum going that encourages others to join in.
Maynard’s endearing clown character relies purely on mime and Mr Bean like grunts for communication. His Tardis-like suitcase contains all manner of props and clothes and is steadily emptied during the performance which in turn creates the opportunity for an amusing and very clever denouement. Whilst many of the skits are humorous (and some hilarious), there are moments of quiet and some really quite dark and poignant pieces. There are two excellent pieces of puppetry to admire, both cleverly spot-lit to enhance the effect. The highlight, however, was an extended sequence extolling the frustrations of commuting on the London Underground where audience participation increased to the point that there were few left sitting, with the rest crammed onto a small stage pretending to rattle along in a crowded tube train. Bizarre and funny.
And yet, at the end of the day, I was left feeling that this show really only worked as well as it did because the audience had in it a high proportion of Fringe participants, who were clearly comfortable at improvised role play. Without them you’re left with some perfectly acceptable clown and mime work and one or two really clever bits of puppetry but that doesn’t surely account for all those four or five star reviews.
Perhaps this is a “marmite” show – you are either going to love it (as the vast majority of the small audience did) or hate it (as a steady stream of early departures indicated). I’m sitting firmly on the fence on this one.