Wednesday 10 July 2024

Stage: Just clowning around

London Clown Festival
host Riss Obolensky
with Piotr Sikora, Paula Valluerca, Nancy Trotter Landry, Neil Frost, Frankie Thompson
band Sarah Woolfenden, Dan Lees, Tom Penn, Julie Nesher
Soho Theatre, Jackson's Lane and other venues

London Clown Festival brings three weeks of riotous physical comedy to venues across the capital ahead of the Edinburgh Fringe, and it kicked off with a lively two-hour cabaret featuring a number of notable acts playfully interacting with the audience in the upstairs studio space at Soho Theatre. The results were a bit uneven, as these kinds of programmes usually are, but the general atmosphere was hilarious, especially as the performers unapologetically went for it. And being press night, this included some pointed interactions with critics in attendance.

The energetic host for the evening is Michael (Obolensky), an Aussie drag king who proudly notes that his stand-up comes from 1989 and wears a tie emblazoned with the word "creep". He introduces the excellent four-piece live band for the show, then launches into a bit involving an HR complaint line, helping the audience sort out their workplace gripes through improvised song in various genres. It's very, very silly, and continues in between the acts throughout the night. The first performer is the band's trumpeter Sarah Woolfenden, who does amusingly absurd new age-style beat poetry to set the mood: "We know not what will happen".

Then it's the fabulous tough guy Furiozo (Sikora), who wordlessly mimes a riotous crime caper with the help of a few audience members. This includes a robbery, elaborate chase and jailhouse escape, all of which play out in very funny ways thanks to Furiozo's warm-hearted undercurrents. (Furiozo performed a variation of this routine in January at Stamptown.) He's followed by another of my favourites of the night, Madame Señorita (Valluerca), who strides out with diva-like confidence and Celine Dione-style delusion to sing a sultry song in Spanish that's punctuated by conversations with audience members she thinks she recognises. The deadpan delivery, visual sight gags and soapy side stories she creates are hilarious.

Woolfenden, Suki Tawdry, Frost
The next two acts are downright surreal, more slapstick performance art than comedy. Suki Tawdry (Trotter Landry) shyly takes the spotlight and enters into all-out war with the microphone stand while the band fills in the gaps. Then she struggles with a stack of papers before mumbling a poem and fleeing the stage. Neil Frost bounds out to perform a Shakespeare tribute, battling a wig and cape that simply won't stay on as he prances and poses around the stage to the music, pausing to shout "Shakespeare!" and taking audience requests, with similarly messy results.

Madame Señorita, Thompson
And finally there's the hugely talented Frankie Thompson, who performs a fiendishly witty CCTV camera romance to Every Breath You Take, then launches into an uncanny verbatim performance to spoken word recordings of people saying "horrible things". This includes recounting a meeting with Margaret Thatcher, baking the perfect scone and more vile Thatcher musings. Strikingly physical and unnervingly in synch, she ends the show on a very strong note indeed.


Soho Theatre, 8.Jul.24

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