‘Coulrophobia’, by Opposable Thumb

Review from: Jackson’s Lane, London International Mime Festival; 25th January 2020

Coulrophobia​ (named after the fear of clowns) was devised following the ‘killer clown phenomenon’ of a few years ago; a media frenzy around individuals dressing up as clowns to scare people. The show aims to break apart the publics’ perception and reveal the complex reality behind the red nose.

The performers, Dik Downey and Adam Blake of Opposable Thumb, are in full clown get-up. They have on giant shoes, tatty ruffles, elaborate face paint and big noses. The show begins as they go through the motions of a clown show for children, complete with balloon gags and some (deliberately) clumsy slapstick. Adam then finds a small box with a crank handle that produces a light under his chin and some haunting music. This prompts Dik to break out of silent clown mode to frantically tell Adam to stop because he’s crossed the line into ‘creepy’. After demonstrating these two extremes, they soon relax into a playful and chaotic structure for the rest of the show, chatting to each other and the audience throughout. The loose narrative is that they are trapped in a cardboard world, controlled by an evil clown but it is not important to focus on the plot, as the strength lies in their ability to engage with the audience as they take us with them on an unpredictable and rowdy ride.

The show takes some unexpected turns, veering from silliness to graphic moments of violence and nudity, to the occasional moment of real intimacy. The characters are both under the thumb of ‘Poco the Clown’, a twisted and perverse puppet. In the scene where we meet this character, the puppet is manipulated by both Dik and Adam and it is impressive (as well as a bit disturbing) how well it comes to life. Dik is a successful puppeteer and puppet maker and it is excellent to see this craft incorporated into the performance. Throughout the show, the artistry in the design is a pleasure to experience. The entirely cardboard set – as well as the multitude of props and objects by Emma Powell – are intricate, satisfying and effective in creating a world for us to enter.

My favourite thing about this show is the ways it includes audience interaction. The performers get lots of people up on stage, their commanding attitude hinting at the influence of street performance. They play around within this relationship, making the audience members part of a scene, giving them funny instructions and reprimanding them when they don’t do it well enough. They include all of us in the narrative, addressing us regularly and getting us to join in by ‘being the sea’ as they run around between the seats.

This show is fun, frantic, and strongly stakes a claim for clowning in popular culture. Hopefully it will instill its audience with an appreciation for this art form and encourage people to think twice about putting clowns in a box.

Online programme notes are linked here

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