Prepare for laughs for the whole family in Absolute Theatre and Teatro Montemuro’s The 4 Clowns of The Apocalypse, but keep an eye out for glimmers of ‘blink or you’ll miss it’ darkness.
For those familiar with the theatre style of bouffon, The 4 Clowns of The Apocalypse will be broaching familiar territory. All dialogue in Absolute Theatre and Teatro Montemuro’s production is replaced with larger-than-life facial expressions and exaggerated body movements. Those who’ve never heard of the style will have encountered its tropes through the humorously violent physicality of Punch and Judy all the way to the slapstick gags of Laurel and Hardy. Presented as a series of vignettes in which 3 clowns (seem to forget to) search for their missing comrade on a desert island, The 4 Clowns of The Apocalypse harkens to all of the primal elements that comprise timeless comedy.
Reinvigorated in the 60’s by prolific mime acting teacher Jacques Lecoq, the art of “bouffon” (which sounds very similar to buffoon…) relied on farce and absurdism to create extremely heightened comic situations. We see this as the piece opens with random objects strewn all over the stage as if to indicate a shipwreck. However lighthearted it may be, the setting lends a post-apocalyptic undercurrent to proceedings. For all the adults in the audience, the silliness of each clown is somehow imbued ever so slightly with a mirthless edge. The way in which each clown, particularly the green-robed, bow-and-arrow-wielding character, interacts with each object with an air of unfamiliarity that almost feels akin to Beckett. This parallel is further strengthened when we see that only 3 clowns are present on stage. Much like how the eponymous figure permeates throughout the play despite their absence in Waiting for Godot, Death (the fourth clown) leaves a very noticeable void.
Death, however, is parodied frequently by the clowns. In fact, nothing is safe from the satire of these silent jesters. They re-enact vices such as smoking and drinking so briefly that you’d be forgiven for having missed it. They subvert fashion, scrutinise renaissance paintings, bring us into a football game, engage with religion and, if that wasn’t enough, an interactive solar system is created. Even synchronised swimming is not safe! All of this of course with the help of the audience. At times, it may feel as if we have been lured into a convoluted game of charades within Canada Water Theatre but with no discernible outcome. This need not detract from the experience. In fact, reluctant participants ultimately ruin the magic whereas good sports are rewarded with the thrill of being a child again. In both scenarios, the clowns shine and audience participation is where the play is at its strongest. Make no mistake, these boffins know how to stay one step ahead of their crowd.
Perhaps then, one can say that the audience is the fourth clown in the expansive game that The 4 Clowns of The Apocalypse creates. It felt more like an interactive installation than a play at times, due to the disjointed nature of the action. That being said, one cannot help but feel that the piece could benefit from shaving around 20 minutes off its duration. Whilst the payoff for some gags is created through suspense, some jokes could be pithier. Moreover, the show falls into a rhythm that becomes somewhat repetitive and diminishes some of the humour.
The 4 Clowns of The Apocalypse is definitely worth seeing though, particularly with an open mind. For many, a completely silent play will not be familiar territory but is worth experiencing. Don’t let the name of the play cause you to shy away from bringing your children to a surprisingly delightful experience either. Don’t be deterred by the thematic content, as the children in attendance were enthralled.