Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Man is serious, he has things to do. Clown wants to play and have fun. A clash of two strong wills in this dark-edged comedy. But who is the clown?
“A little nonsense now and then / Is relished by the wisest men” is a couplet muttered as an aside in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by that master of the absurd, Roald Dahl. And we’ve got plenty of nonsense in this hour of knockabout, physical comedy, replete with clown gags, knock-knock jokes, absurdism and mime, yet intriguingly framed with a darker edge that looks at the melancholy and pathos that so often lies behind the painted mask and funny nose.
As we enter, the Man is clattering away at a typewriter. But the Clown wants to play, engaging the audience through mimed responses to the Man’s grumpy utterances and resorting to po-faced silence whenever the Man turns towards him. This endearing opening ensures that the audience buys into the conspiracy of frivolity which just about lasts for the full hour of this interesting piece.
Man, the party-pooper, soon puts Clown on the rack, demeaning his sense of fun and frolics, humiliating him and, on one occasion, attacking him quite violently. With the piece now having established a clear goody and baddy, there’s a further twist as Man’s resolve to remain the epitome of sobriety withers and the pair embark on an unlikely and completely nonsensical journey through life, with a helium balloon playing an innovative and, at times, crucial role in the proceedings. And there’s a neat, rather symmetrical denouement that poses more questions than it provides answers.
Andy Kelly (Clown) has a real grasp of the art of clowning and a rubber face that rivals that masterful exponent of the art of mime, Rowan Atkinson. Each time that it appears as if he has run out of gestures and facial quirks, Kelly comes up with something new and amusing. And Matt Christmas as the Man has an edge to him that creates the undercurrent of fear and tension that runs throughout Oliver Hoare’s nicely structured script.
Perhaps the piece could be tightened a bit by cutting some of the absurdist romp the two performers embarked upon as clowns. In parts it was almost Pythonesque in its caricaturing but, overall, this part of the production lacked the strong direction that characterised the rest of the performance. And the perils of working in a tiny venue (Pleasance This, which is barely roomy enough to swing the proverbial feline) meant that the performers were sometimes working outside the small array of lights at their disposal. But these are small criticisms of a piece that held its own for a full hour.
So what’s the message then? Probably that there is often a sharp edge to the funny and the ridiculous. A Little Nonsense is quite a dark piece in places which makes its many lighter moments seem a merciful release from the tension. But I’m guessing here. Maybe the authors intended it to convey something different. Or maybe not. Maybe it is, as the title suggests, just a little nonsense. Worth going to ponder on.