Fooling around

16 April 2019

Grace Patrick falls in love with Ugly Bucket's graduate clowns

I’m never sure about where I stand on the processes of drawing out an audience’s emotions in theatre. It always feels like there’s the potential to cross a fine line between ‘emotional’ and ‘emotional manipulation’, especially in shows that deal with traditionally challenging or delicate areas. With that said, in this case it felt pretty obvious that the audience were already so much on their side that it was closer to a mutual descent into either panic about the future or horror about the present. Really, I can’t think of anywhere better to put this show on than here, because being a student and wanting to somehow forge some semblance of a career out of something vaguely creative is, frankly, terrifying. There are dead ends and loopholes and so many ways to be derailed, but so very often we don’t talk about that because it is absolutely paralysingly horrifying to think about.

A point comes with stuff like this when being serious can’t work, just because…We know. We know it’s bad. We know everything is terrible. It’s a classic case of you’ll have to laugh or you’ll cry, and there’s something very refreshing about collectively deciding that, just for a minute, we’re going to laugh. Or laugh and cry, if you’re me. I know next to nothing about clowning as a theatre form, but I’m struggling to think of a way of framing this show that would have worked better. University is stupid and absurd and terrifying and wonderful, but there’s only so far that language can take us, just because how can you ever find the words that apply so universally?

There were a few moments dotted through the show which maybe felt a tiny bit trite, but often enough these slotted into the enormous inside joke that they were building. Sure, there were some aspects which were a little predictable, but they wouldn’t be predictable if we hadn’t all been there.

I can’t get this far without talking about the fact that I think this is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on a stage, ever. I’d hate to give much away, but during The Bit With The Hammer, I was an absolute wreck. It was just so unrelentingly hilarious, and nothing stopped being funny until the cast decided to let it. They all had such a delicate understanding of what would work and what they could get people respond to, and that’s the cornerstone which underpinned the whole thing.

The thing is, everything that they were saying was true. The future is scary, and it’s equally terrifying to lose control and to be given control, especially when the people around you just want to be proud of you. We’re not going to change that just right now, but the truest thing of all is that talking genuinely can help, or at the very least it can’t make it worse. Even though things might feel like a spiral into a chaotic hell or perhaps an uninspiring void, it’s probably going to be fine. Nobody can promise that, so let’s just keep hoping. And maybe make a few more shows about it.

@noffmag / [email protected]

Image credit: Beatrice Debney