Crafting an hour-long solo show with no dialogue is no mean feat. Doing so in a way which keeps both children and adults attentive is another matter. In Kaput, Australian clowning master Tom Flanagan has created a little comedic gem which follows the (mis)adventures of a hapless, celluloid-era cinema projectionist who just wants to screen a rom-com for his audience. With only a willing and clueless audience to play off, he creates an exuberant, anarchic, yet meticulously crafted narrative appealing to audiences of all ages.
The story is simple: one lone clown welcomes his audience, distributes popcorn, sets up his projector, mildly damages his screen – and soon chaos reigns. While the story might be simple, the snowballing of mishaps, breakages, and smoking appliances keeps spectators unsure of what is to come (and delighted by the nonsense that ensues).
The purely physical storytelling, as well as the logically nonsensical approaches to conflict resolution within the narrative (a hallmark of slapstick), brings to mind the classic Charlie Chaplin/Buster Keaton-esque clowning traditions of early cinema (though, as a younger audience member sat a few rows back exclaimed to his parents, Johnny English is another apt comparison). The constant fairground music aids the illusion. However, regardless of one’s frame of reference, Flanagan has clearly painstakingly rehearsed each gesture, acrobatic manoeuvre, and ‘accident’ befalling his clown; it is very clear the anarchy is an illusion, which allows the audience to indulge in the fantasy without genuine worry.
While the physical expertise shown here is a standout, the creative ways in which Flanagan interacts with a large array of props is a testament to his creativity and marks the show in memory. A roll of tape becomes a weapon of mass destruction; a bucket proves endlessly useful; biscuits are not for eating; and large but all-too-moveable ladders and planks turn into a jungle gym. To echo and butcher Flanagan’s tongue-in-cheek warning at the show’s conclusion – don’t try this at home, kids, unless your home is a rehearsal studio and you are a highly trained professional.’
While Kaput loses some energy when relying too much on the audience (a risky bet, no matter how charismatic and energetic the performer and game the unrehearsed participants), Kaput kept audience members young and old loudly involved throughout – satisfying the basic tenant of live entertainment. The set pieces’ meticulous choreography and brisk pacing – possible only through Flanagan’s boundless energy – keep the audience engrossed throughout the story’s twists, turns, and mishaps. It will be a crowd-pleaser this Fringe regardless of the audience’s median age.
Kaput plays at Assembly George Square (Piccolo) at 13.30 every day except Wednesdays until 26th August. Tickets cost £12 (£11 concessions) and are available on the EdFringe website.