RUgly Bucket’s debut show promises a rip-roaring tour through university life and the common theme that follows graduation known as ‘post-uni blues.’ In what was the signature clowning style of Ugly Bucket, there was mime, slapstick violence, emotionally charged verbatim recordings and techno. Lots and lots of techno. So, considering they’ve returned from this year’s Edinburgh Fringe with a sellout run of both Bost-Uni Plues and 2 Clowns, 1 Cup, are Ugly Bucket turning into a force to be reckoned with in the Liverpool theatre scene, or has this long-running show found the time to ‘graduate’ from the stage into the archives?
First off, I’d just like to say that this will probably be one of the shortest reviews I have written in a long time as there isn’t that much to say. Simply put, you need to go and see this show. ESPECIALLY if you have been to university, or you’re planning on going in the near future. There are no two ways about it. Go. And. See. This. Show.
The way in which Ugly Bucket manage to encapsulate the feelings and events of going to university are absolutely bang on. I’ve never been to see a show that had features of ‘real life’ in it that capture moments we can recognise so perfectly. From the weird mix of fear and excitement when moving out for the first time, to making friends with your new and selected-at-random flatmates, to finally having that overwhelming feeling of happiness and pride at finishing your degree with your peers… to it then all being over in the blink of an eye. Simply put, I cannot think of a way for Ugly Bucket to improve what they have created in terms of bringing to life the key aspects of university life and the feelings that it brings with it. For that, I thank you deeply. I graduated from university over four years ago now and so a large part of those memories aren’t in the forefront of my mind. So to go over them and see that other people hold the same happiness from the same things is meaningful to not only myself, but I’m sure to anyone who has seen this piece and thought back to their time at university.
Ugly Bucket do something really quite clever with what I’ve mentioned above. They don’t give the audience this information and try to make a comment on it, nor do they bring it to light and try and make it out to be the most important thing facing every graduate leaving university, that would be absurd. They just show the audience these issues and that’s it. That’s all they do. They don’t make a statement on them or try to make them out to be something they’re not. They simply just highlight that they exist, and that in itself is a touch of class.
Now, the meaty bits.
I’d just like to raise one issue firstly now that I’ve got the soppy sentimentality out of the way. The miming. This is not the biggest issue in the world but it is something I picked up on. Now it is probably because I hold Ugly Bucket to such a high standard after witnessing the force of nature that is 2 Clowns, 1 Cup, but the miming to some of the verbatim clips just seemed half-arsed. It started brilliantly and the opening set of characters created from the verbatim recordings were cleverly presented, timed to precision with the recordings and had a clear definition to them. But as the piece moved on and we got into more frantic scenes and the later scenes, the effect of the miming to the recordings fell away as actors visibly just mumbled through the words. Now, I don’t know how long these exact recordings have been in the piece, but I do know how long the piece has been running, so to have actors seemingly unsure as to what they’re miming about just unsettled the audience and lost the desired effect. And, just to put it out there, it didn’t seem to be a case of the miming got sillier as the clowning and scenes got more absurd. The miming just stopped being at the same high level that it was at the beginning of the piece. That being said, the energy on stage did make up for this lapse and it didn’t necessarily take away from the performance as a whole. But it is something that could be tightened up considering the length of time the show has been running.
There were however, a million positives opposing this one negative and these positives blew the issue of miming way out of the water in the grand scheme of things. There were poignant scenes that were filled with love and understanding that any graduate could relate to that really do make a serious attempt at addressing the issue of the hole that university leaves when graduating. The verbatim recordings were genuine – and surprisingly honest considering the nature of the interviews. But what stood out most of all was the comedy. The timing of some of the jokes were flawless, the intelligence to layer a joke with a plethora of different timings and mini punchlines along the way were sublime and being brutally blunt about it, you’d struggle to find comedy of this standard anywhere on the West End, never mind at the Edge Hill Arts Centre. Now that isn’t to say that this show is West End standard throughout, some jokes don’t hit their marks at times, but the vast majority do and that is what is important. The hug/handshake scene is funny in itself, but to finish the punchline in the way that it does with the crotch to the face moment is genuinely rip-roaringly funny and is the second best thing I have seen on stage since, well, 2 Clowns, 1 Cup… That is, until I saw the mallet scene.
Now I’m going to try not to spoil this scene as best I can, and I’m not going to cover it too much either. But I NEED to address it. I have not seen a piece of slapstick violence delivered to such a high standard in a theatre in my lifetime. The ferocity with which the mallet is used, the length of time for which Ugly Bucket devote to this scene and the sheer confidence in their own ability to devote a solid five minutes to this scene and STILL have people laughing by the end of it firmly puts Ugly Bucket on the radar of anyone with any nous about them in the world of theatre and beyond. The attention to detail in the scene is second to none. The mallet is even changed at one point for a second mallet of a different colour! Like, the absolute arrogance in that is astonishingly brilliant and the more I try and wax lyrical about how brilliant it is, the more I find myself being lost for words at its brilliance. It is hands down the standout scene of any show I have seen in the past 12 months and I can’t help but compare the talent in the way the scene is built and delivered to the sheer genius that was Rik Mayall and Ade Edmonson in Bottom’s ‘Gas Man’ scene.
Overall, Ugly Bucket have something on their hands that all graduates, students and aspiring students should see. The energy they bring to the stage is unbeatable and whether their style of theatre is your cup of tea or not, you end up investing so heavily in the humanity of the show that you can’t help but enjoy the journey these three clowns take you on. There genuinely is something for everyone – and not in a Panto’ style either – with their dancing, techno, slapstick or simple silliness, Ugly Bucket have brought together an amalgamation of worries that 1000’s of graduates have each year, and reassured each one of them that they’re not alone.
One final note before the verdict is that this is now the second show from Ugly Bucket that I have seen and both have gone in a similar signature style. I am due to see Ugly Bucket’s third incarnation: Good Grief at the Unity Theatre on 28th November and will be extremely interested to see whether they stick with the same winning formula, or take a risk on changing it up so as to keep the audience on their toes.
Theatrevolt rating: 5/5 stars