Creator: Rebecca Northan
Reviewer: Gareth Davies
You don’t have to look too hard to find clowns at the Edinburgh Fringe. The nose is often the giveaway – which is handy because it makes it oh-so-easy to avoid them.
Let’s be honest – no one really likes clowns, apart from people who rarely leave the house or whose idea of high culture is Love Island Aftersun. And the people who like clowns least, of course, are coulrophobes – people who have the decency to disguise their contempt behind an act of it being an irrational fear.
So raise a cheer for a clown show for people who hate clowns; an improvisation act for people who hate actors who are too lazy to learn a script. Blind Date is sheer, unalloyed, un-deconstructed, non-ironic, fully consensual fun.
The premise is that Mimi (played by creator Rebecca Northan) is waiting for a date that hasn’t shown up. Plunging into the audience she chooses a replacement who will spend the evening on stage alongside her – and before your mind runs away with the fear of ritual humiliation by a comic who preys on the discomfort of volunteers, Northan makes clear that her act is about working together, about shaping the show together, using the awkward energy from her volunteer as a force for humour rather than exploitation.
And it is awkward. Totes awks. Just as any first date scenario features various levels of uncertainty and exploration, Northan knows exactly when (and how) to push her volunteer, just enough, in the right direction – a knowing laugh from the audience as the bill at the restaurant is handed to the volunteer, who gamely hands over his credit card and adds on a generous tip. It’s fair to say her volunteer each evening will certainly get more than they bargained for, as the date scenario unfolds and expands beyond the restaurant table, but there is not one ounce of meanness or bad faith from Northan, who has a ready smile and a widened eye to win over any hesitation from her ‘date’.
There are momentary longueurs where the comedy drops away, to allow Northan and her co-star to share more intimate moments, the better to create a functional bond for the purpose of the story, but it’s never long before a witty response or a sharply phrased comment draws us back to the comic potential of the setting.
There are some important ideas unfolding beneath the comedy too. The concept of consent, who asks for it, who gives it, how it is given, how it is tested, are all explored, along with the interplay between reality and fiction (“Surprise! Real wine!”). There’s an intriguing dynamic at work in that the volunteer is encouraged to be totally themselves, while Northan offers (presumably) only as much as her character desires. Some of the funniest moments occur in the ‘time out’ zone, where Northan (or her volunteer) can ask to step outside the world of the play to clarify the rules, for what Northan describes as “high level pretending”.
It’s a masterclass in how to create a unique work of comedy in collaboration with a person who has never stepped onto a stage before.
To say more of the narrative possibilities that are offered would be to spoil much of the enjoyment of following each night’s unique story to unravel. Far better to go to this date almost entirely blind, and allow yourself to be guided by this team of first-class clowns.
Runs until 25 August 2019 (not 5, 12 or 19) | Image: Contributed