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February 21, 2010 | by  | in Arts Theatre | [ssba]

Buffoon’s Birthday


I have an admission to make. Buffooning is not my thing. It just isn’t. Buffooning is a very specific kind of clowning, marked very much around the animalistic exaggeration of the human form. And it just doesn’t ring my bell. But it might ring yours and that’s fine. So, with that caveat, and the fact that you might just like the form more than me, let’s get on with the review.

You have to piece the story of Buffoon’s Birthday from the title, programme and press release much more than you can from the show itself. The mixture of overly accented shouting and an unclear narrative structure makes it easy to let your focus drift away from the content of the show. We are introduced to a number of Buffoons, each representing a part of the human body—Bones, Blood and the like—and a narrator. Bones is having a birthday and everyone else is there to give him a present. I think. Then some other things happen. And then it ends.

A modicum more clarity to the proceedings of Birthday would have been nice, as it became easy for me as an audience member to become lost in the deep swathe of actions. This was more disconcerting than relaxing or involving.

There is an odd cognitive dissonance at the core of buffooning which is very obvious at the Birthday. It clearly aspires to be a return to a more basic (and to some degree base) form of theatre. A return to visceral feeling and physicality in the theatre. A simpler and purer way to pass an hour or so. This clashes rather irritatingly with the dialogues over reliance on densely purple prose, which is so predicated on a tangential turn of phrase as to further obscure the action or intent or meaning.

The cast are very clearly a talented bunch committing entirely to their roles and pulling of the enhanced physicality of the style with aplomb. A few greater degrees of separation between the characters to make them more distinct would not have gone awry, as it is often hard to tell the masked figures apart. The masks in and of themselves, it should be noted, are things of beauty designed by Alice and Mary Canton.

Buffoon’s Birthday is an interesting exercise in an interesting form that they don’t really pull it off in my eyes, which is probably down to my eyes more than their pulling.

Buffoon’s Birthday
Written and directed by Damien McGrath
With Julia Guthrey, Angela Johnson, Janina Matthewson, Lance McBride, Lucy Mulholland and Hamish Parkinson

at BATS theatre, 1 Kent Terrace
19 – 22 Feb 2010 / (04) 802 4175

Part of the 2010 Wellington Fringe Festival


About the Author ()

Uther was one of the two arts editors in 2009. He was the horoscopier and theatre writer in 2010. Alongside Elle Hunt, Uther was coeditor in 2011.

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