RI came along to the Hope Street Festival on a whim. I had heard about it but weren’t sure if I would be able to make it down. Fortunately, I caught the Saturday showings and was graced with three performances from three extremely different companies. From Naughty Corner resurrecting The Muckers for a stand-alone performance before setting off on their Glastonbury adventure with Raves R Us, to Spare Rib Burlesque closing the evening with some raucous performances. But the show I would like to focus on is 2 Clowns, 1 Cup. My reasoning for this is because when arriving at the festival I told myself I was here strictly for leisure purposes. I’d had a long week and wanted to relax by watching some theatre that I had no expectations of… That was until I witnessed Ugly Bucket Theatre’s aforementioned show and simply couldn’t resist putting something together for truly unique piece of theatre.
From the outset, the energy that the company brings to the space is palpable. Just walking in and having to walk past one of our clowns (Grace Gallagher), she brings an energy and silly sense of security to her role. Once the audience are in, we’re thrown into the absurdly silly and devilishly clever world of the 2 Clowns and we aren’t afforded a single second to look into the fading distance that is the reality of the real world.
First off, I’d like to address the opening scene. Now, going through the play chronologically is not something I usually do and a technique I often criticise other reviewers for. But for this, you will hopefully understand why I’m starting with the opening scene once I add some context to it. The opening scene sees Grace Gallagher (for the sake of repetition we shall call her Clown 1) playing the role of a security guard, protecting a big, red button that NOBODY must press… Enter Crystal Quinney Barella (Clown 2): a nervous looking, jumpy character in a long coat with a penchant for pressing big buttons. You might have guessed what comes next, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But what sets this scene out for me isn’t what is done, but rather how Ugly Bucket go about it (as is the case for every second this show is being thrust into the audienc’s lap). The subtlety in which the scene comes to life, the absolutely flawless timings of each actress and the facial expressions/gestures to each other, as well as the audience are nothing short of sublime. Add in to all of this, the fact that both actresses are speaking in a giggerish language similar to that of Despicable Me’s: Minions to add to the sense of silliness, tops off what is nothing short of a brilliant piece of ridiculous comedy that builds up into a climax that rips the top off of reality and gives complete license to approach sex and self-discovery in any way, shape or form… And boy do they.
From the get-go until they bow at the end of the piece, both actors produce the highest levels of commitment and energy to the piece and they truly look like they are revelling in every moment they are on the stage. The piece is cleverly written and taken from conversations had with members of the company as well as interviewees. These stories are then played verbatim to the audience while the clowns bring these stories to life. Alongside this, they also tackle some important issues like the ‘Tampon Tax’ and discovering ones sexuality for the first time, in a wide form of ways that are all creative, thought-provoking and also simply hilarious.
I usually tend to steer clear talking to anyone about a show that I plan on reviewing until at least a few hours after the curtain has come down. This is due to giving myself time to reflect and look back on the piece, rather than using my gut reaction and emotions to respond to what I’ve just seen. This also gives me time to think thoroughly about any improvements that need to be made and whether they’re valid forms of criticism, as well as allowing me to properly digest the good bits too. It gives me time to deconstruct the jokes and the positive parts of each piece I see and think about why they were funny or poignant etc. as opposed to just telling the reader that it is. If you have read my earlier reviews, you would know that this is something that comes up quite frequently on stage. Too many companies are telling the audience how they should feel or telling them what is happening. Ugly Bucket don’t do that. They show the audience something and trust that they will figure it out themselves. This sets this piece apart from the rest and what makes it truly, gut-wrenchingly funny.
As a result of the above, I’ve been sat racking my brain for days, with 2 Clowns, 1 Cup rattling around in the empty recesses of my mind and going over it, again and again. I’ve been picking it to pieces, trying to figure out what glaringly obvious point needs addressing and where they possibly need to go back into the rehearsal room to iron some finer points. And do you know what? I genuinely can’t think of a major issue that stood out to me. There are smaller wrinkles that need ironing out, like slight timing issues or very subtle lapses in the flow of the piece, but I genuinely cannot fault any of the material that I witnessed. It was all so well thought out and cleverly put together that if there were any issues that could have stood out, the company were so careful to make sure they went about the scene in such a creative way, that the cracks were glossed over and presented in a way that nobody could notice.
So after thinking about it, I came up with something to talk about that is somewhat of a criticism. A handful of the scenes are a little repetitive in their actions in that they repeatedly use mime and there were maybe one or two audience members I noticed who switched off when a mime scene almost directly followed another mime scene. But this in itself is justified. The show is a piece of clown theatre and so criticising this piece for too much mime would be like criticising a murder mystery show for having a death in it. Mime is a fundamental part of clowning and so to take away from the shows merit for using a technique associated with the genre would be completely ridiculous and quite frankly I’m not going to do it. The only thing I would say is that maybe the running order of the scenes could be looked if they wanted to address this issue.
When writing this review, I wanted to open with this paragraph, but I chose not to because I wanted to save the best scene until last. I’m now going to use this paragraph to explain to you why the ‘Squirting scene’ is probably one of the most hilariously brilliant and deviously clever scenes I have ever seen in theatre, whilst simultaneously trying not to include spoilers… Wish me luck.
The scene itself is built on a typical formula used throughout this show; the actors are responding to the verbatim recordings of people talking about sexual discovery and all is going swimmingly, until the recording brings up a somewhat curious issue in the world of sexual discovery: squirting. At which point, Barella breaks character and informs the audience that the recording isn’t accurate as squirting isn’t necessarily a sexual thing and that is in fact ‘piss.’ What follows is nothing short of fucking genius. The resulting action involves the actors breaking from their roles and insisting that this is not a part of the show (albeit with bigger and bigger winks toward the audience from Gallagher), which results in nothing but absolute carnage and one of the cleverest punchlines I have ever seen in fringe theatre. The reason why this is so effective isn’t because of how ridiculous it is. But rather the opposite. You can literally see how much work is going into building the punchline from the outset. Each actor (as well as the director) are selling the build up to the joke so hard and so convincingly, that when we get to a false peak of a punchline, the audience were laughing at it anyway as it in itself had been worked for. This meant that when the punchline did actually come, there was hysteria in the stalls. The audience, myself included were wetting ourselves with laughter and truly appreciating the work that had gone into the joke (wetting ourselves pun included thank you very much).
I’ve mentioned before in my reviews that winning a laugh from the audience involves more than just a silly joke or pulling a funny face. It requires serious hard work to get the audience onside and to build the delivery of the joke to a point that it gives the audience no choice but to laugh. There’s no point just throwing the joke at the audience again and again until they laugh. Sure you might get people laughing, but if you really push them and ask them how it was funny you’d probably get something along the lines of
‘It was just dead funny.’
Whereas what Ugly Bucket have done – and what I have been praying for for months – is exactly what is needed. They have created the joke from the ground up, worked hard to build the context of the joke and shown the audience all of the pieces that pull the joke together, they they’ve brought the punchline, let the audience put it all together, and made making an entire theatre fall apart laughing look like the easiest thing in the world.
For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with comedy. From being sat in front of the TV as a toddler and being shown the slapstick delights of Laurel & Hardy, Jim Carrey and Bottom (even if I didn’t get all of the jokes at that point), to watching the genius that are the silent clowns of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin alongside the absurdity and ridiculousness of Monty Python. It’s safe to say the aforementioned are people I have aspired to recreate on stage myself – I even wrote my dissertation on Monty Python and their influence! So it is by no easy feat that I say that Ugly Bucket’s 2 Clowns 1 Cup had elements of every single one of the above. This piece of theatre manages to combine a multitude of comedy genres to create a raucous piece of theatre that the most serious of people would find amusing in at least one moment. Ugly Bucket are taking it up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year alongside their other show Bost-Uni Plues, and I can’t help but with them every success in their endeavours. If they look at tightening the tiniest of cogs within this show then I can see no way in which this production doesn’t turn some serious heads.
With that, there is nothing left for me to do but award 2 Clowns, 1 Cup with Theatrevolt’s first ever 5-star rating! I am truly thankful for the most refreshing piece of theatre I have seen in a hell of a long time.
Theatrevolt rating: 5/5