Silent Faces Theatre promises ‘physical political fooling’ and their latest Fringe show A Clown Show About Rain delivers on all fronts, with a nautical caper that uses humour and physical theatre to explore depression and mental health. Following their 2017 takedown of the finance industry in Follow Suit, this year sees them partnering up with charity Rethink Mental Illness for this sweet exploration of how friendship can bring us through troubled times.
Devised and performed by the company, there’s plenty of promising talent, energy and ideas on stage. Following a band of three sailors, complemented by a pair of on-land explorer/campers, the sea-faring metaphor is a well chosen conceit to describe the ups and downs of mental health. Scenes revolve around classic clowning tropes – things going missing, inter-squabbling, and earnestly attempting things that fail comically. There’s some great audience interaction, and a cracking soundscape from Ellie Isherwood to round off this devised work.
Periods of smooth sailing and rough weather neatly personify the changeability of mental health. One of the sailors keeps battling persistent drips and leaks of water, which are invisible to the other crew members. It’s an interesting symbol for declining mental health, which can often feel like a multitude of small, otherwise copable things building up and threatening to drown you. I’m less certain of what the campers offer, aside from some good laughs from small vignettes like sharing a sandwich. It doesn’t feel like their contribution to the narrative was fully fleshed out, despite some strong performances by Cordelia Stevenson and Jack Wakely.
Great clowning is fundamentally emotional, rather than intellectual – it rests on portraying essential emotions, like love or sadness, and is therefore an inspired way to approach mental health on stage. However, making the internal intentions and thoughts of a character visible to the audience requires such a high command of physical performance, and unfortunately this doesn’t quite land at moments during the show. Non-verbal performance needs to be achingly precise for the audience to follow the story as intended, and some scenes get a bit lost in translation in this show – are they on 2 ships at the beginning or 1 by a quayside? What is the character trying to tell the audience? You can reason your way back to the intended narrative, but it brings you out of the moment.
On a more practical level, when I watched the performance, the sound levels were too high during the storm sequences. This could be just a quirk of where I was sitting in the auditorium, and it’s certainly not easy in Edinburgh when you’re sharing a space and tech, but it would be worth checking the levels throughout the auditorium for the next show.
A Clown Show About Rain shows lots of potential and promise, but it would really benefit from an outside eye, who can help lock down the story. It has comic, beautiful, poignant routines in abundance but needs a stronger through-line to tie them all together, and drive the performance at a faster pace. But ultimately, these are clowns with hearts and an agenda, what’s not to love?
A Clown Show About Rain is playing at 10 Dome, Pleasance Dome, every day at 1.40pm until Monday 27 August (not on Monday 20 August). You can buy tickets here.
CAST AND CREATIVES
Directed by Cordelia Stevenson
Devised and performed by Josie Underwood, Cara Withers, Stella Kailides, Cordelia Stevenson and Jack Wakely
Sound Design by Ellie Isherwood
Set Design by Stella Kailides
Presented by Silent Faces
Supported by The Pleasance, New Diorama and Camden People’s Theatre