London Clown Festival’s Opening Cabaret – Soho Theatre, London

Reviewer: Nilgün Yusuf

As one coach load of clowns is bussed out of Westminster, another lot has just arrived in Soho from all over the world. The London Clown Festival is back for another season of surreal joy and the opening night was a delectable taster.

Clowns carry a lot of baggage – and it’s not just the weight of their make-up and wigs. They carry the weight of Bozo, Krusty and Ronald McDonald, the hackneyed comic rituals of skidding on banana skins and driving too-small cars. While some might find them childish, others find them terrifying; Stephen King and John Wayne Gacy haven’t helped. But this is clowning for grown-ups and embraces a wide range of approaches from physical comedy and mime, improvisation, drag and cabaret. If laughs have been in short supply lately, The London Clown Festival offers a hilarious tonic.

Wigs and painted faces came courtesy of the London Clown Festival House Band: Den Lees, Tom Penn, Sarah Woolfenden and Julie Nesher, a quartet who underscored proceedings with some thumping grooves spanning funk, rock, and country. Their ridiculous ginger costumes belied their musical mastery and gifts for improvisation.

Aural Bliss (Sarah Woolfenden) officially opened the ceremony with some mystic gongs and a divining rod, full of cod philosophy and empty profundities that finished mid-sentence and disappeared in the mist – a lost guru who knows absolutely nothing and somehow lifted the lid on those who pretend they do. The compere for the night was irrepressible drag king, Riss Obolensky whose vigorous, mansplaining persona was Michael from HR. In between the acts, they warmed the audience by solving audience gripes with expletive-filled and improvised songs.

Furiozo: Man Looking for Trouble has been described as a Polish thug clown. Piotr Sikora is a meaty mass of man. In boxing shorts, bling, and tattoos, he could be a James Bond villain or Putin assassin. His corporeal brand of mime, physical comedy, and audience participation, drawn from toxic masculinity and its repressed vulnerability, is bizarre and captivating.

Madame Sênorita, devised by Paula Valluerca and directed by Roisin O’ Mahoney presents an unhinged diva in a purple satin gown who sings Spanish torch songs and parodies the relationship between performers and their audiences. She’s looking for connection and refers to her enormous clitoral gland which has always made her popular with men.

Suki Tawdry of Nancy Trotter Laundry, Giffords Circus and Fools Moon fame attempts to read T. S Eliot. Described as “a consummate physical comedian” by the New York Times and “excruciatingly hilarious” by A. A Gill, there’s something quite brilliant about her.

Neil Frost entertains with an insane and hilarious skit as the Bard in doublet, hose, and an inconvenient ruff; if the Bard had Tourettes and OCD, it would be something like this. Franki Thompson offers a disturbing lip-sync performance to a nine-year-old Jacob Rees-Mogg which is the closest thing to The Exorcist seen on stage.

So, put to one side childhood nightmares of Chipperfield’s Circus and those creepy weirdos of the past. Contemporary clowning engages on many levels. To state the obvious, it makes you laugh out loud and releases feel-good hormones. it can be funny: absurd, surreal, or idiotic. Clowning is also a form of social commentary that pokes fun at all the silliness in society that passes as normal; living as we do in times of absurdity and uncertainty. Perhaps, nothing sums this up better than this inspiring cavalcade of comic talent. On until the end of the month at Soho Theatre and Jackson’s Lane in Archway, give yourself a treat and book a ticket to laughter. It’s cheaper than therapy.

Runs until July 26 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

An Inspiring cavalcade of comic talent

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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