ComedyNorth WestPhysical TheatreReview

Slapstick – HOME, Manchester

Director: Stanley Burleson

Reviewer: Jay Nuttall

If a bit of silliness is what you need in your life then look no further than HOME’s Christmas offering, Slapstick. Madcap Dutch clown musical troupe will entertain the whole family with two hours of nonsense and buffoonery should you wish to do something alternative to the usual pantomime and Christmas shows.

HOME continues its work of programming work from across Europe with Amsterdam-based Slapstick – around for over twenty years as expert musicians, singers and clowns. Their show is a series of clown routines of five to ten minutes in length involving countless instruments and a few pratfalls. This is a homage to the silent comedy movie era and the performers look like they may have just walked off a 1920s Hollywood set. Described in their publicity as an ode to the timeless comedy of Charlie Chaplin, The Marx Brothers, Spike Jones and Laurel and Hardy, Slapstickis a joy to experience.

“They’ve already got up to mischief” described one young girl as the performers intermingle with the audience before the show starts, (one getting dressed onstage) and a self-playing piano tinkling away to itself. The first number, Welcome to the Fairground, establishes the setting and the myriad of routines and instruments that await. What immediately impresses is the expert musicianship of the performers, picking up and swapping several instruments each and playing them with sheer brilliance. Their singing voices are also brilliant. Who knows why but hearing songs such as Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head, Bohemian Rhapsody and Uptown Funk sung in German in Barbershop formation is extremely funny – especially when at the end of each song one performer is randomly killed off by a giant boxing glove or hammer. If this sounds slightly odd, it is one of the more sane routines and just the tip of the iceberg …

A segment involving all five performers playing accordions begins with a squirt of whipped cream on their noses, a swan is rescued from the ice by an ice skater, a fast-talking American fairground stall holder entices the audience to play his stall, the moon descends from the sky and is played as a giant drum, pillows are thrown out at the finale for a giant pillow fight. Not much of the show actually makes any sense but its an awful lot of fun to go on the journey with them and it is genuinely very exciting to not have any idea what on earth may happen next onstage.

At points there is a feel Reeves and Mortimer as sketches and routines descend into the surreal. From the promotional material and title of the show you may expect ladder routines, giant frying pans and pratfalls aplenty. However, this is a much smaller element of the show. There are a few extremely well-choreographed slapstick moments (including a tribute to Buster Keaton’s collapsing house), but Slapstick is much more madcap music rather than madcap violence. Because of the non-linear, nonsensical nature of the show the show occasionally loses a little focus, especially for younger children who are perhaps waiting for the next bang and wallop.

Each of the five clowns brings their own personality and trait that they embody their performance throughout, and none more so that in a very beautiful part of the show when old age and dementia is explored. A frail man with Zimmer frame and a hand that doesn’t stop shaking loses his false teeth, tries to eat a tie as well as the microphone foam before finally beautifully singing Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable … only to forget the lyrics halfway through the song. As bad taste as this sounds it is handled with such care and performed with such honesty that it becomes incredibly touching and a reminder that clowning can sometimes touch on the tragic as well as the comic.

“I think that was one of the strangest things I have ever seen” my son told me on the way out, “but I loved it”. Impossible to categorise, very hard to write about, it is a wonderfully joyous show that makes very little sense but will make you laugh solidly for two hours.

Runs until 22 December 2018 | Image: Jaap Reedijk

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The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. 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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