Camden Fringe 2019
The debut production by ‘Away with the Clowns’ is written and performed by Lucas Bailey, directed by Conor Kennedy and has movement direction by Lauren Maxwell. It combines clowning, spoken word, traditional theatre, and audience interaction aiming to shed light on the rollercoaster life of thousands of homeless people in the UK.
Inspired by many honest and moving interactions with London’s homeless community, ‘Come Fly with Fred’ tells the story of an involuntarily homeless man dealing with loneliness, hunger and boredom. The whole story appears to be told in one day; one day in the life of a man whose days differ very little from each other.
We meet Fred on the side of the road. He walks on stage and immediately acknowledges us. The auditorium lights stay on, leaving us vulnerable and forcing us to engage with the goofy stranger on stage. And what makes Fred goofy is not his round red clown nose. It’s his smile, his positivity and his willingness to engage with the unknown crowd. At the same time his pain is painted in his eyes, he doesn’t want to dwell on his pain or sadness, he wants to get on with his life, but it’s difficult. There’s not much to do.
He shows us his paintings that he’s done on cardboard boxes with enthusiasm, they’re not exactly masterpieces, but we play along, smile and applaud him. It’s all jokes and laughs until he puts up a sign: ‘£6 for a painting’ and then actively tries to get us to buy one. No words spoken, just excellent physical comedy by Lucas Bailey that makes you see right through his cheerful smile and into the inner desperation of Fred.
The staging is simple yet effective, Fred’s paintings against the back wall and a bin on the side. Fred’s costume is excellent; old clothes with holes, covered in paint, a camo jacket, a hat, and fingerless gloves. It’s not trying to look like the outfit of a homeless man, it is the outfit of a homeless man. And that’s what’s so great about this show – how truthful it is. There’s no room for clichés or pretend altruism and the real people that inspired this piece are represented respectfully and with genuine care.
As the day goes by, Fred continues finding interest in the simplest things around him. When he is given three raw potatoes in a planet organic bag, he is not disheartened by the fact that they’re inedible; instead, he uses them to juggle. It is an opportunity to pass the time and an opportunity to attract our attention to spare him some change. Other such moments is when he beatboxes and breakdances, but the most beautiful moment in this whole piece is the moment Fred uses some breadcrumbs to lure a pigeon before grabbing it. The pigeon – played by none other than Bailey himself with the help of a sock puppet, feels so real it’s uncanny. The interest, love, affection, and care Fred gives to that animal and the need he shows for love in return, brings the puppet to life. So it’s no surprise when he releases it in the sky (and the sock puppet, of course, falls on the floor) we “see” the pigeon fly away.
The piece is beautifully directed by Conor Kennedy and all the ways the audience is involved in the story are well thought and well earned, nothing is done for no reason. We are the people that walk past Fred every day and for that this piece, although extremely funny, is uncomfortable to watch – in the best way possible.
There were a few moments that the action could have flown a bit smoother and I wasn’t convinced that the spoken word piece that Fred speaks about halfway through the show was needed. It is a moment where Bailey takes off his clown nose and with that poem gives us an insight into the thoughts of Fred and confirms for us that he is indeed involuntarily homeless. It’s a good poem, but Bailey’s performance throughout is so strong that the poem doesn’t actually tell us anything new. But this is nitpicking because overall we are talking about an excellent show with a very strong message.
The piece does one of the most important things good theatre should do – provoke thinking while entertaining the audience. And it does so without preaching, but simply by effective storytelling. Perhaps we all know that there is a homelessness issue in this country, but how often do we think why? What brought the homeless to this situation? What is our government doing to tackle homelessness? When we do spare some change, or have a nice conversation with a homeless person, what happens to them when we leave? What happens to them when the night falls?