FringeReview UK 2023
Clowning, comedy, physical theatre and storytelling intertwine as rodeo tales are told.
And Then The Rodeo Burned Down is a treat : a smorgasbord of physical theatre, clowning, vaudevillian playfulness and much, much more – a two-hander from the U.S. that offers a queer, sideways look at rodeos and the usually machismo-drenched world of cowboys. This is a charming, funny, poignant and clever hour, but with a layered element of vulnerability.
The audience enters The Kings Heads’ three-quarters round space to see, well, not much at all really – there is precious little set save for a couple of props, but, in this confined space, actors, Chloe Rice and Natasha Roland, come to life to Dolly Parton’s immensely upbeat 9 to 5. We meet rodeo clowns with a cup of ambition ; they are highly aspirational of progression. But everything is not as it seems – one of the clowns is a shadow, bringing to mind Peter Pan’s alter-ego, but without the existential angst. The characters shift, seamlessly, challenging the audience to keep up. When a stranger comes to town, not only do roles shift, but dramaturgically so does status. The protagonists bicker, fight and, tentatively, flirt. And then they break character. There is a major shift : it is all rather absorbing. While the influence of Waiting For Godot can be seen, the cast construct their own unique, perspective-shifting, gender-challenging narrative. Are we seeing a story being devised or recalled ? We swing between comfort and discomfort. The country and western style soundtrack seems appropriate, tending even to obvious, except then the sound distorts, mirroring perhaps the distortion of roles, the distortion of norms.
The piece is not flawless ; some of the choregraphed movement may have been tighter, but this is doubtless down to the cast performing in a new, narrower space, following their successful Edinburgh run. Frankly, however, this is a most minor observation against the backdrop of a surprising, tremendously executed show. Rice and Roland’s rapport is palpable, marking them as a pair to watch.
Rapid fire. The rodeo must have burned to a fire that took hold rapidly. But figuratively, this phrase evokes quickness of wit, eloquence of dialogue, sharpness of action. And Then The Rodeo Burned Down is the embodiment of these ideas. To paraphrase Goodfellas, these clowns did amuse, but then so much more. A performance with heart, not to be missed.