With a name like Coulrophobia (the irrational fear of clowns), you might be forgiven for thinking that tonight’s show is going to be characterised by shock tactics and unpleasantly scary trips down memory lane. While creepiness rears its head in very brief moments during the first act and is reinforced by the brash, overbearing presence of the puppet overlord Poco throughout, the 70 minutes are dominated by far more hilarity than horror, as the show makes brilliant use of audience interaction, deft metaphysical observations and slapstick, well, clowning.
Produced by Pickled Image theatre company, the show features Dik Downey and Adam Blake as two clowns trapped in a set constructed entirely from cardboard. From the moment Dik and Adam set their oversized feet onto the stage, it’s clear that they’re experts in mime, puppetry and any number of other physical theatre disciplines. Right from the get-go, the audience is transported into sometimes uncontrollable fits of laughter, with barely a pause for breath as the pair race from one hare-brained, hysterical scene to the next.
The script, which was drafted by both performers along with director John Nicholson, is purposely loose in places and delightfully self-aware in others, as Dik and Adam frequently refer to a physical version of it in order to progress the action. The fourth wall is well and truly broken, with the clowns not only referencing it on more than one occasion but clambering through it at will to drag audience members into the fun on stage.
Again, a show which involves heavy audience interaction might be an instant red flag for many theatre-goers, but the energy and goodwill with which the pair pull off the numerous opportunities for participation instil a great sense of inclusivity in the whole performance. Indeed, it’s rare that the curtain falls on a production and crowd members who weren’t pulled on stage feel almost left out, but whether it’s as the object of a gooey-eyed Adam’s affections, as a waiting customer in a hair salon or as the third occupant of a claustrophobic cardboard lift, those involved in the action will thoroughly enjoy their time in the limelight.
This is a show that mixes silly slapstick with acute cognisance, peppered by flashes of the sinister and brought to life by two performers at the peak of their clowning powers. The cardboard set alone is a treat for the eyes and the non-stop nature of the show’s gag reel a workout for the stomach muscles. If you get a chance to catch this performance in the flesh, grab it with both hands and forget the fact that clowns terrified you as a child by laughing yourself stitchwards at them as an adult.