Part of the Grimebourn festival at the Arcola Theatre, this is truly a show of two contrasting halves. In the first part, the audience are treated to a rather melancholy and sombre interpretation of Pierrot Lunaire that is difficult to understand.
Formed of a selection of 21 poems from Otto Erich Hartleben’s German translation of Albert Giraud’s cycle of French poems, Schoenberg’s melodrama doesn’t feel as though it has much purpose. This is where Constella ballet and orchestra come in.
The music and dancing are strong and fluent throughout and you do feel as though you are watching special talent emerge – particularly Matt Petty as Pierrot, whose dancing is mesmerising throughout. In terms of the singing, Emma Stannard has plenty of talent, although I felt it was a little bit pitchy in places but she has lovely warmth to her vocals that were pleasing to hear.
Visually, the set was a blank canvas, allowing the audience to focus on the music and the dancing which was a perfect way to do it but unfortunately this half still felt flat in terms of the mood and confusing nature of the piece.
This is why it was a surprise that the second half Sideshows was so optimistic and a joy to watch. Set in a circus, the audience are introduced to clowns and all sorts of different characters performing in the circus show.
It is full of silliness, from simple things such as hats falling off, the ringleader (Leo Geyer) being chased by the dancing bear among other elements. It certainly feels like it brings all the fun elements of the circus to life.
But it is also a show that reveals how music can convey many different things to the listener, such as the clowns communicating to the ringleader through their instruments and the sounds they make. We don’t understand exactly what is said but the audience still have some knowledge of what is going on – a lot more in fact than in the first half.
The other plus to this part of The Clown of Clowns is that the audience are made to feel involved more, a strong thing to be able to do in an intimate space such as this and much more warmly received than the cool distance in Pierrot Lunaire.
If there is a slight problem with the show it is that parts of the staging for those sitting on the left hand of the stage (by the door as you come in) your view is partially restricted by the clowns. But overall it is a much stronger performance.
Both are interesting pieces but certainly Sideshows is certainly the strongest out of the pair.
Review by Emma Claredon