Of all the types of entertainment, it seems that commedia dell’arte – historical Italian theatre and pantomime, originating in the 16th century – would be fairly COVID-safe, due to the fact it is traditionally performed outdoors. This has not slipped the attention of clown duo Viggo Venn and Julia Masli, who have donned their Harlequin and Pierrot costumes to bring joy to the streets of London.
Set to the audio of interviews with “a child, a mother, a grandmother, a professor of sicknesses of trees, a friend far away and a Londoner”, we watch as Venn and Masli explore the capital and its surrounding woods with awe and childish delight. As they climb trees and ride the tube, they capture the experience that many of us have had over lockdown – a new appreciation for the neighbourhoods that we were confined to, and the nature they contained. The most moving scenes involve the two clowns interacting with members of the public; whether creating a pirate ship out of a traffic island or a merry-go-round out of a fountain, their joyful demeanors seem to create a gravity well which pulls people into their ridiculous schemes.
For all of the light-heartedness present in We Missed You, however, there is also deep contemplation. The interviews that play in the background highlight the trepidation felt over the last 18 months – a pensioner reminisces about her pre-COVID dance classes with fellow elderly people, a child states that “people are getting sick more often… than before” – while the camera focuses on the COVID memorial wall, or a hospital. This melancholia seeps into the two clowns, too; as Masli lovingly hugs a statue in a park, we are reminded of the physical contact we have been deprived of for so long. We Missed You expertly balances silliness and tenderness as it encourages us to contend with what we have lost and are desperately longing for, while also reminding us that there is still good in the world.
With the year we’ve had, and the year we’re still having, it seems that We Missed You, with its gentle humour and hopeful message, has come at exactly the right time.