‘Dreams of a Clown’, by Soul Penny Circus

Review from: Greenside at Nicolson Square, Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 26th August 2023

Dreams of a Clown, performed by a community circus collective from Denver, Colorado, was my wildcard for the festival, and I’m delighted to say that it came up trumps! Of all the shows we saw with my two-year old, this is the one that held her attention throughout. From the charming opening where we were invited onstage to meet the cast, be kissed by fishes, and waft silk waves, to the surprisingly poignant conclusion of their magical fairytale, I found myself grinning, laughing, and even crying a tear or two. My partner – who sees far less performance than I do – was equally moved, it really was a treat for the entire family!

Soul Penny Circus have proved that you don’t need giant production budgets and industry polish to make a big impact at the Fringe (although the travel and accommodation costs for the company of sixteen-ish must be eye-watering). What they have is passion, creativity, and a trunk full of handcrafted props and costumes that they put into use with dedication and joy.

The story of a Nightmare who wishes to dream, and her frustrated kidnap of the Moon’s Child, forms the basis of the production, which sees the Sandman travel from his realm through oceans and clouds – even meeting Time himself – to rescue the missing girl. The company have thrown everything at the show – rhyming verse, idiosyncratic costumes, aerial sequences on a low freestanding rig that supports a colourful patchwork canopy over the stage, mime and ensemble physical theatre choreography, darkness, light, a classic routine from the American clown alley tradition, a soundtrack that includes the touching Rainbow Connection popularised by Kermit the Frog, undersea creatures, and a wonderful scruffy mongrel puppet called Max, who is expertly articulated. Individual performer credits aren’t available – perhaps because some appear to still be minors – but this is a group effort that everybody seems equally committed to.

Soul Penny Circus was launched during the pandemic, and if they don’t already have a community of dedicated fans at home in Denver, I imagine they soon will have. On a recent visit to my parents’ house, I came across a VHS tape that showed a short ‘making of’ documentary from a youth theatre project I was involved with last millennium. Watching it reminded me of the immeasurably positive impact the experience and others like it have had on my life. In Dreams of a Clown I feel like I’m watching that experience play out for others, and it’s a beautiful thing.

The advertising claims of ‘immersive’ and ‘participatory’ are probably a bit of a stretch, as the sections the audience are invited to take part in just top and tail a conventional performance dynamic where we sit and watch from our seats. Nonetheless, the sheer density of fantasy elements appearing before us manages to keep engagement high. Dreams of a Clown is a surreal trip of pure family entertainment.

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