‘Cartoooon!!’, by Witty Look

Review from: Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 27th August 2023

Take one world champion unicyclist, one brazen clown, mix in some manga stylings and some quick-change magic, and you get the colourfully entertaining Cartoooon!!, from Japanese duo Witty Look. At times downright hilarious (the parents are probably laughing at different things to the kids), this is the first dedicated indoor production from veteran street performer duo Daiki Izumida and Chiharu Kunishima (a.k.a. ‘Cheeky!’), and they have done a sterling job of combining the scale and interactions of busking with the focus and dressings of a stage-show.

A simple story arc – with a surprisingly poignant ending – gives a frame for oodles of madcap whimsy that fill the remaining hour. A woman discovers the stage, overhung with red and yellow swags of fabric and festoon lights. A magic suitcase conjures a smiling stranger who transforms her into a vibrant cartoon companion. Together they tease, trick and impress each other with various gags and unicycling bits, before coming together for a doubles finale of epic skills. Perhaps there’s a hint of autobiography in the creation, as Cheeky has previously reported that she first began learning mime because she wanted to be a cartoon!

There are some slight issues with the sound from the radio mics, which don’t deal well with the occasional bursts of shouting, and the balance needs adjusting for these sudden increases in volume (or, perhaps, the artists just need to modify their own delivery compared to their street work comfort zone). This doesn’t stop us from enjoying the larger-than-life responses, simple speech-bubble vocalisations and uber-expressive faces that Daiki and Cheeky! use to flesh out their characters.

Cheeky! is as flexible in the hips as she is in her face, allowing Daiki to manipulate her legs into all sorts of odd angles. He is a subtler foil to her impatient exuberance, but comes into his own when the unicycles come out. Some of his skills are obviously impressive, as he moves between standard, giraffe and multiwheel cycles (including a wheelbarrow section with Cheeky!). Others are less obvious but more illustrative of his renown. He wins me over near the beginning by idling for a really long time, holding an imaginary wall for support, as the audience focus on Cheeky!’s antics elsewhere on the stage. A fellow unicyclist tells me afterwards that we never see some of his cleverest tricks – which he performs on a 2-high multiwheel – because, for a general public audience, the five-high multiwheel (or pentacycle, as I’ve seen it called elsewhere) is more impactful.

The set and costume designs are cohesive and stylish, and the catchphrase of ‘magic!’ – used both for comedy punchline and genuine tricks – elicits more and more delight as the show goes on. It’s rather a whirlwind, but a warm one, full of the kind of delicious absurdity that offers something for the whole family to enjoy.

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