With those in my age bracket, there is a rule: for any given situation, there’s a Simpsons reference that will apply. Accordingly, when I first saw the title Clown Cabaret Scratch Night, my first response was to recall Lisa’s reaction to the marquee advertising a Yahoo Serious Festival: ‘I know those words, but that sign makes no sense’.
For those as out of the loop as I was, a Clown Cabaret Scratch Night is much like a sketch show that’s regularly light on speech and heavy on physicality, existing somewhere between Samuel Beckett’s Acts Without Words and Fringe-type character comedy. Judging by this evening alone – one of several such nights that take place every year – you could argue it’s at its strongest when its performers have few things to say.
Take Rainy Days, a dialogue-free piece performed by first-timers Calette Duke, Bridget Nicholson and Fraser Anderson. A charming sketch about being disappointed by pleasant weather, its free-flowing style allowed it to encompass a broad range of humour, from the familiar gestures of removing a sticky welly boot to the unsuspected, slightly magic gags that catch you entirely off guard. Throughout it all, there was a constant sense of freshness and freedom which never outstayed its welcome.
On the side of pure character comedy, there was Kirsty Nicolson’s King Biff, with Nicolson playing the part of a pickup artist life coach in the style of Roosh V or Tom Cruise’s Frank TJ Mackie in Magnolia. While the performance evoked the traditions of drag king in its deconstruction of hypermasculine stereotypes, it remained on a single note for its entire duration, stretching the parody to breaking point.
Luckily, that’s what scratch nights are all about: the chance for performers to test things out, seeing what works and what doesn’t. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the pieces that proved the most satisfying were the ones which already fused several disparate elements: Ruxy Cantir’s monologue for pickled tomato, coupling character contortions with a range of facial expressions that Chaplin would envy; or Lewis Sherlock’s abstract, lightbulb-carrying clown in a trenchcoat, managing that Pinteresque trick of being absurdly hilarious and menacing at the same time.
Pieces like these put the scratch in context and, more importantly, capture the ineffable nature of clowning – the whole point of which lies in qualities that exist solely in the moment between an audience and a performer onstage. Seeing how it all develops – and gradually begins coming together – is a treat worth experiencing.
For more information on Clown Cabaret Scratch Night, including their next event, click here.