This response was produced as part of the #CircusVoices scheme for developing critical practice around circus arts.
Review from: Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 13th August 2018
What is considered humourous or comedic varies greatly person-to-person, and place-to-place. Oftentimes comedic sensibilities are not shared between those of us from North America and other parts of the world – the subtle, and not-so-subtle differences not always making the oceanic crossing intact. I thought this might be the case with Thom Monckton’s The Artist, until a small boy in attendance changed my mind!
I am not familiar with Monckton’s previous works, including his most well-known project The Pianist, so I walk into the Assembly Roxy a blank slate, not really knowing what to expect of the performance. While the audience files into to the theatre, the Artist, played by Monckton, stands behind his easel. Quiet music wafts through the air and the performer takes no notice of the growing numbers of people.
Laughter erupts from the crowd as he finally reveals his creation, but also notices he has dirtied his smock. Ignoring his lack of progress and creativity, he removes the smock, only to dirty his t-shirt, which he removes as well. Guess what? He has another t-shirt on underneath it, which he also dirties. Feeling a bit disappointed, and only a few minutes into the show, I am ready to give up on any hope I am going to enjoy The Artist. This type of humour just isn’t for me. Or so I think.
Because the show is sold out and I have been separated from my party, I am sitting alone. A family with a young boy, probably around seven or eight years old, is seated behind me. The boy is hysterical with laughter from the start. To his mother’s chagrin, he calls out “This is so funny!” and “I’m laughing my head off!” more than one time. He asks questions, good questions, about the action and the humour, and the teacher in me (I am an elementary school teacher) starts to warm up to The Artist. Listening to the boy’s joyful reactions and connecting those with what is happening on stage allows me to see and understand the humour that I hadn’t before.
I laugh at Monckton’s absurd attempts to claim his paint brushes on a top shelf, just out of reach. His work with a ladder is not only humourous, but shows off strength and hand-balancing abilities I did not expect. An annoying drip that breaks his concentration and distracts him from his task is relatable. How many times have I found myself distracted by the same repetitive noise? A banana disco that he creates while trying to organize bowl of fruit for a still-life study hilariously excludes any non-bananas in the bunch until the clever pear finds a disguise. What is seemingly banal and mundane becomes comedic in Monckton’s hands and takes on meaning beyond the humour.
The small impromptu moments are what I find funniest and most engaging in The Artist. He misses tossing his paint brush into a canister, but successfully flips his glasses onto his face, a much more difficult task, and makes an exaggerated “YES!” gesture. An impromptu and energetic ping pong game with the audience is a wonderful way to bring us all along for the ride and I find that I am actually disappointed when the patron in front of me catches the ball I wanted to snag. He invites an audience member on stage, and then flips the script asking her to paint him, which she happily does while he struggles with that drip again!
The low point of the show for me comes when Monckton does some strangely placed hand manipulation behind a canvas stretched with some sort of elasticated nylon fabric. It’s a bit dark and slow. It is is neither funny nor terribly interesting to watch. I was happy that it was a short bit and the comedy picks up again quickly.
The final moments of the show culminate in a lovely conclusion for both the Artist and the audience. Upon exiting the theatre I quip to my cohort that the show reminds me of the British show, Mr. Bean. “Is that a bad thing?” one replies. I am not sure at the time, but I can say now with certainty, that no, no it’s not. The Artist is a fun, physical comedy romp for those who wish to see it as merely a good laugh, but also features layers of additional meaning about the challenges of life and creativity. Go, enjoy, laugh and bring a child if you can!