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A Little Nonsense
Published on Tuesday, 14 May 2013

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4 stars

Upstairs at Three and Ten (venue website)
9-11 May, 7:00pm-8:00pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Warning: Contains strong language.
 Suitable for age 16+ only.

"A little nonsense, now and then, is relished by the wisest men." It's a quote from Roald Dahl, apparently, and there's plenty to relish about this offbeat physical comedy – which employs some shameless nonsense to throw relief on a darker, even sinister, core. It grows a little self-indulgent sometimes, and its enduring message is frustratingly hard to decode, but the nonsense itself is easily enough to make the cost of the ticket worthwhile.

We're welcomed into the theatre by a happy-looking Clown – loveable from the tips of his toes to his tousled ginger mop, a living personification of the child who dwells in all of us. He waves, pulls faces, and grins at the audience, inviting us into a conspiracy of playfulness which survives for most of the hour. And soon we have an enemy to conspire against, in the form of the killjoy Man. He abuses, debases, and even assaults the Clown... because the Clown is interrupting the Man, and the Man has important work to do.

Put that way, it sounds rather grim, but it doesn't feel like that at all. The Clown is simply irrepressible, and his facial expressions are superb: every time his antics are in danger of getting old, he finds a surprising new direction to take them in. In time, of course, the Man's resolve crumbles, and the two embark on a nonsensical voyage together. This part of the play lacks the strong focus shared by the beginning and the end, and did start to try my patience a little – but that's not to deny that there are wacky visual highlights to enjoy.  Look out for the stages of life illustrated through the medium of a helium balloon.

So what's it all about, then? I chose to interpret Man and Clown as facets of a single personality – the diligent grown-up repressing that inner urge to skip work and go out to play – but really, I've no idea whether that's what the writers actually intended. And to my sober, orderly mind, that's a bit of a problem. There's enough darkness to the script to suggest it's saying something important, so it bothers me that I'm not quite sure what moral it truly contained.

Perhaps I'm trying too hard, though: perhaps the play's the thing. There's enough underpinning this hour of nonsense to satisfy the thinker in me – but I know that my enduring memory will be of that waving, giggling Clown. So am I, as Dahl would have it, among the wisest of men? I doubt it.  But perhaps I'm a little bit closer.

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